UHP student Naomi Murray has been awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier undergraduate award in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Murray is majoring in Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity, and plans to earn a PhD in Ecology. An active undergraduate researcher, she is already on the path to a career researching how trees affect community function and resilience, with the goal of minimizing the impacts of climate change.
The Secret Life of Trees
Murray’s passion for studying how plants communicate and cooperate with one another was born during a summer research position monitoring tree mortality. For three weeks she camped out in the forests of Yosemite Valley without running water or electricity, spending long hours each day collecting data. At first, the challenges of extreme weather, fatigue, and troubleshooting tried her, but she was soon won over by the beauty of her research subjects.
I began to see that the trees were spectacularly interconnected, like complex networks of neurons in the brain, each working as one small piece of a highly intelligent whole, able to detect and respond to changes in their environment. It is beautiful and unexplored, and more than anything I aspire to understand the way it works.
Murray elaborates, “Trees are known to share nitrogen and carbon through root networks underground, and come to the aid of their struggling neighbors. The ability to cooperate with one another improves group survival and creates more stable forests. A better understanding of the way individuals contribute to forest health through resource allocation will allow us to recognize the limitations of this stability mechanism. Because forests provide invaluable ecosystem services, it is critical that we are aware of their capacity to respond to stress, and able to successfully minimize damage caused by climate change.”
An Involved Student
Murray currently works in the Karban lab studying how plants communicate with one another to synchronize flowering, and what benefits plants may reap from sharing information about herbivores. She also did aresearch project on eelgrass at Bodega Marine Lab and studied the effects of human-generated noise on tree swallow nestlings.
In addition to her research activities, Murray is active in campus life. She works at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, helping to maintain their collection of more than 3,000 plant species. She also serves as an officer for UC Davis SEEDS (Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity, and Sustainability), an offshoot of the Ecological Society of America intended to make ecology more accessible to underrepresented students.
I am grateful for the Honors program because it has given me the opportunity to be surrounded by such a great group of driven and intelligent students. Their involvement and impressive resumes inspired me to seek out research my freshman year. In addition, these peers understand, support, and encourage me in every area of my life, and are as good of friends as they are students.
About the Goldwater Scholarship
Honoring the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, the federally endowed Goldwater Scholarship Program was designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. The scholarship was awarded to only 396 of 1,343 nominees nationwide for the 2019-20 academic year, including two UC Davis students.
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