Tucker Mottl's Fulbright Grant will allow him to spend a year in Spain doing scientific research and earning a master's degree.Tucker Mottl's Fulbright Grant will allow him to spend a year in Spain doing scientific research and earning a master's degree.

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Fulbright Grant sends Willamette student to Spain for research

How are lichens adapting to the harsh environments of Antarctica, and what might their survival tell us about future life on the continent in light of climate change?

It’s a complicated question, one that Willamette University student Tucker Mottl ’11 will take on during the next year as he joins a team of researchers at the University of Cádiz in Spain — an opportunity he earned by winning a prestigious U.S. Student Fulbright Grant.

The Fulbright program sends American students to more than 150 countries each year to teach English, conduct research or creative projects, or commence graduate work. In the last 10 years, 25 Willamette students and young graduates have earned the award, including three this spring.

While in Spain, Mottl also will take classes at the university and pursue a master’s in chemical ecology.

Interdisciplinary Work

He first connected with the Spanish researchers last summer through an internship sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Bucknell University.

For his research project, Mottl plans to use techniques he learned both in his chemistry major and in environmental science to tackle ecological questions from a new perspective.

“I’ll be studying chemical ecology, an emerging scientific field that identifies novel organic compounds from organisms and determines how they can be used for things like pharmaceuticals,” he says. “It can also be applied with an environmental focus to study the chemistry of ecosystems. I’ll be looking at how lichen interact with the Antarctic environment and how they chemically adapt to environmental stress.”

Experience at Willamette

Mottl worked on numerous science-related projects during his time at Willamette, starting his freshman year when he earned a College Colloquium Student Research Grant to help develop an environmental education program in his hometown of Prineville, Ore.

The next year, he earned the national Udall Scholarship for students interested in environmental fields, and the following semester, he studied in Chile. As a senior, he worked with Chemistry Assistant Professor Alison Fisher to research the biochemistry of moss — again approaching ecology through a chemical lens.

“The Fulbright is a culmination of my Willamette experience,” he says. “From the first day that I stepped on campus my freshman year, the Willamette environment — the guidance of professors and all the experiences I’ve had here — helped me get to the point where I could apply for the Fulbright. It is all the amazing professors, students and staff who really deserve credit.”

“Willamette is a very special place that builds ambitious, passionate, well-rounded people. I truly believe that I would not have had the same opportunities to develop as a student and as a person anywhere else.”

For more information on national scholarships for students, visit Student Academic Grants and Awards.