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Biology professor honored with scientific research award

by Jennifer Johnson,

Chris Smith

Professor of Biology Christopher Smith has won the 2021 Lynwood W. Swanson Scientific Research Award from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust — the first time a Willamette University faculty member has received the award.   

Chris Smith photo
Smith, right, stands beside Lynwood W. Swanson and "Promise" award winner Andrea Kunder from Saint Martin's University 

Evaluated by a panel of national experts, Smith was chosen because he is widely acknowledged as a global expert in the diversity of yuccas, has a well-supported, sustained and productive research program that involves undergraduate research colleagues and has mentored more than 30 student researchers since he started working at Willamette in 2008, said Moses Lee, senior director of scientific research and enrichment programs at Murdock.

Smith, who has produced two to three publications a year in the top echelon of international journals in evolutionary biology, also has a record of scholarly publication with undergraduate co-authors and has public-facing science communications, Lee said.

The professor was recently honored at Murdock’s annual conference in Vancouver, Washington. His award includes a citation and a cash prize.  

President Steve Thorsett said in many ways Smith “represents the future of biology” by combining traditional fieldwork with the most advanced bioinformatics and genomics done anywhere today, while Malia Santos ’16 said being part of Smith’s team is the reason she is still a scientist.

“It’s mainly the reason I love doing what I do — I’ve had such a great mentor and friend to guide me through the process of academia,” she said. 

Learn more about Smith and his work in this video.  

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