Winifred Johnson ’09 Wins National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship
Winifred Johnson '09 taking seawater samples.
The fellowship will fund three years of research for the chemical oceanography student in the MIT/WHOI joint program.
Winifred Johnson ’09, a graduate student in chemical oceanography at the joint Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (MIT/WHOI) program, was recently honored with a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. This fellowship, given by the Department of Defense to American Ph.D. students in science and engineering disciplines of military importance, funds full tuition and fees at an American graduate school, and provides a monthly stipend and medical insurance. Johnson is one of approximately 200 graduate students who were chosen for the honor this year.
“This fellowship will give me freedom to pursue research questions that I find compelling without needing to fulfill work on a specific grant that is funding me,” she says. She will use hers to continue her studies in the MIT/WHOI program, where she is doing her thesis research on metabolic profiles of marine microbes with Liz Kujawinski, an organic geochemist. The field, called metabolomics, “holds promise for elucidating the details of global elemental cycles,” says Johnson of her research interests.
When she started at MIT/WHOI last fall, chemical oceanography was a new arena for the former chemistry major. While at Haverford, Johnson worked in the labs of both Professor of Chemistry Karin Åkerfeldt and Associate Professor of Chemistry Frances Blase and completed senior thesis work on protein-peptide interactions. She spent the year after graduation touring the globe on a Watson Fellowship, exploring the intersection of art and science in sustainable gardening in Vietnam, South Africa, England, Spain, Costa Rica and China.
But when the time came to return to school and a lab, Johnson was eager to find a way to combine her passion for molecular science with ecology, and chemical oceanography seemed like a good fit.
“I decided to be a chemistry major after taking organic chemistry with Fran Blase and Terry Newirth,” she says. “I liked learning about the underlying physical mechanisms behind chemical reactions. Understanding how molecules interact and change has fascinated me since then. I also have been interested in ecology and the environment for some time… Studying chemical oceanography has allowed me to connect my interest in molecular level interactions with global scale cycles.”
Johnson credits the College and its liberal arts curriculum with nurturing her interests and preparing her for her future career.
“I gained a strong chemistry background while I was at Haverford,” she says, “but I also had the freedom to study abroad and take courses outside of chemistry, which prepared me to enter a graduate program in a new field.”