From Great Salt Lake to Patagonian Fjords: Honors Student to Research Climate Change with Fulbright Award

Emily Calhoun Fulbright Scholar

April 20, 2020

Westminster College is proud to announce senior Emily Calhoun received a Fulbright Chile Science Initiative Award to study climate change impacts on microbial communities.  

Calhoun, a neuroscience major and Spanish minor in the Honors college, will investigate how the smallest organisms play a major role in the world’s ecology. Microbes like bacteria, fungi and viruses are invisible to the human eye yet drive all mechanisms of life.

“As producers of vast quantities of the world’s oxygen — and also serving as the base of the food chain by controlling marine energy and nutrients — these microscopic organisms might provide answers to increasingly important questions regarding climate change,” Calhoun said.

Chilean Fjords

Calhoun will study among Patagonia’s rocky glaciers and stunning coastlines teeming with wildlife. She says the Chilean fjords offer a diverse range of environments for her to conduct experiments in both fresh and marine waters. Her project is called “Phytoplankton Changes of Freshwater and Marine Microbiomes in the Chilean Patagonian Fjords” and she will work with Dr. Marcelo Gutierrez of the Universidad de Concepción COPAS Sur-Austral Center for Oceanography Research.

Conducting microbiology research with Westminster’s Great Salt Lake Institute and Westminster biology professors prepared Calhoun for the Fulbright award. Some of her work included characterizing the soil rhizosphere microbiomes in the salty shorelines around Great Salt Lake, something never done before.

Students at the Great Salt Lake

Students researching in a lab

“I had the opportunity to present my preliminary research at an international Halophiles 2019 conference in Romania last year. That opened my eyes to the immense amount of research yet to be done in the field of microbial ecology,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun landed the prestigious Fulbright grant with help from Westminster’s Office of Fellowship Advising. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide. Students who participate in the program are selected by a presidentially appointed 12-member board. Alumni of the program include Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize Winners and MacArthur Fellows.

Professor and student

Student and professor