Our Stories

Thinking Small

Usually when people think of global warming they think of the big picture -- erratic weather, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Jennifer Bufford '08 thinks small. Really small.

The biology senior concentrates on plant cells at the biochemical level and how they'll be affected as temperatures rise. In science-speak, she looks at the effect of nitric oxide on the development of thermotolerance and/or thermoinhibition.

"These processes are important when it comes to global warming," Bufford says. "High temperatures tend to inhibit plant cell growth and division, which might reduce crop yields and intensify world hunger. The ultimate goal is to find ways to protect plant species from the effects of global warming, to keep crop yields steady despite rising temperatures."

Her research has garnered the attention of the Goldwater Scholarship Program, which recognizes science students of exceptional promise -- and picks up part of the tab for their education. The scholarship will allow her to push forward with her research at Willamette.

"I really appreciate the chance to do research at a small university like Willamette, where the opportunities for self-directed research are excellent," Bufford says. "My undergraduate friends at larger universities are doing routine lab work rather than designing and conducting their own research." Biology Professor Gary Tallman, who directs the Willamette Office of Faculty Research, has mentored Bufford, helping her frame the parameters of her research.

She got an early start in science. Her biologist mom introduced her to plants and animals at a young age, her dad worked in computer science, and scientists seem to sprout on the family tree. "I guess you could say that science is in my blood," she says.

Her extracurricular activities reinforce her academic pursuits. She joined the Bio Undergraduates Club and volunteered with the student Outdoor Pursuits club, teaching after-school science lessons to local elementary school kids. Weekend trips include skiing in the Cascades, bird watching at local refuges, and canoeing in Oregon's rivers.

The Pacific Northwest native is studying abroad this year, having swapped the clean, green city of Salem for the clean, green city of Sydney, Australia. Her extracurricular activities there include volunteering at a marine ecology lab. She reports that grades in Australia are replaced by "marks," autumn comes during our springtime, and students really do say "G'day, mate." She eats fresh guava and star fruit, has met her fair share of kangaroos and kookaburras, and once fought off a poisonous spider in her room. It turned out alright, or as her Aussie friends would say, "No worries!"

As for the future, Bufford wants to take her cell research to the next step; she wants to become a full-fledged biology professor. Sometimes you have to think small to dream big.

Willamette's Department of Biology celebrates its 100th anniversary in September. You are invited to the festivities. For information go to Centennial Celebration Web site.

For information on this scholarship and others, contact Monique Bourque in the Student Academic Grants and Awards office on the second floor of the University Center.