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Wallace wins 2022 Spector Prize

Kayla Wallace, a senior majoring in environmental biology, with a minor in anthropology, in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been awarded the 2022 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.

Kayla was nominated by her faculty mentor Joan Strassmann, Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology, who primarily studies the evolution of cooperation and the control of conflict in a microbial eukaryote, the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.

Kayla’s thesis, titled “Effects of freshwater acidification and parasitism upon rusty crayfish consumption behaviors” 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, Strassmann said, “In sum, I think Kayla Wallace is richly deserving of the Spector Prize. She shows the leadership promise from her earlier work with the Association of Black Students at WashU in leading a workshop for high school students applying for college. She is an aspiring environmental biologist who has shone with this process born in adversity and seen to its end with mentors inexperienced in the actual research.”

Honored to receive the prize, Kayla says, “Throughout my entire research project, I've pushed myself and have grown tremendously as a scientist, leaning into my curiosities, and developing the technical and critical thinking skills to explore them in a meaningful way. Being awarded the Spector prize for my research is recognition of my personal growth and symbolic to me, of the value of my contributions and my mind as a scientist.

“Completing my thesis was both a challenge and a reward, and I have immense gratitude for Dr. Joan Strassmann and Trey Scott for their encouragement, high expectations, and mentorship throughout the process. However ultimately, I'm grateful to everyone who has played a role in this project and in my early research career, especially the Tyson Research Community, UMBS, and all my research mentors, past and present. We are nothing without collaboration and a strong support system!

“Moving forward, this prize will serve as encouragement to continue my research endeavors, always pushing myself to pursue excellence," Kayla added.

Honorable mentions for the Spector Prize include Onyi Onyeador for her work in Todd Fehniger’s lab, Rachel Silverstein for her work in Indira Mysorekar’s lab, and Victoria Chen for her work in Joseph Dougherty’s lab. They will also receive a prize and formal acknowledgement at a celebration of biology honors and research emphasis students in May.