Ella Ludwig wins 2021 Spector Prize

Ella Ludwig, a senior majoring in biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been awarded the 2021 Spector Prize.

Each year, the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis awards a prize to a graduating senior in memory of Marion Smith Spector, a 1938 graduate who studied zoology under the late Viktor Hamburger. The Spector Prize, first awarded in 1974, recognizes academic excellence and outstanding undergraduate achievement in research. Students are nominated by their research mentors for outstanding research that has made substantial contributions to a field.

Ella was nominated by her faculty mentor Malia Gehan, Assistant Member and Principal Investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, who focuses on improving resistance to temperature stress. Her thesis, titled “Assessing Natural Variation in Brachypodium distachyon Responses to Combined Abiotic Stresses” was praised by all who read it for the design of the experiments, the technical excellence with which they were carried out, and the incisiveness of interpretation of the results.

In her nomination letter, Gehan said “Ella started her thesis project in my lab last year and I have been continually impressed by her independent progress on the project. She was able to complete a complex thesis project that addresses an important research question (mechanisms of plant tolerance and susceptibility under combined drought and heat stress) in a year that required her to work remotely. It has been a privilege to have Ella in our lab group and we plan to have her continue her project following her thesis because she has been so successful this past year.”

Ella says she is very honored to receive the prize. “This project has been a lot of work, but it’s been really interesting and I’ve learned so much; I’m excited to continue working on it over the next year. I am also so grateful for the mentorship I’ve received and the inspiring examples of researchers and women in STEM I have been fortunate to know and work with. It’s been such a privilege and I’m looking forward to what’s still to come!” she said.

Honorable mentions for the Spector Prize include Jelani Deajon-Jackson for his work in Joseph Dougherty’s lab, Michelle Glans for her work in Beau Ances’ Lab, and Rena Silverman for her work in Joseph Dougherty’s lab. They will also receive a prize and formal acknowledgement at a virtual celebration of biology honors and research emphasis students in May.