SF State News {University Communications}

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Student botanist wins prestigious NSF fellowship

May 29, 2009 -- Biology student Genevieve Walden has earned a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship that includes a three-year annual stipend of $30,000 to support her research on Phacelia, a group of plants that are native to North America.

Photograph of biology student Genevieve Walden with her service dog Trigger.

Biology student Genevieve Walden with her service dog Trigger.

"This award really validates my master's thesis," said Walden. "My research will put Phacelia into a family lineage, providing conservationists and managers with new evidence about these plants and where they grow."

Walden combines morphological and molecular methods to piece together the evolutionary history of this plant. She uses libraries of pressed plants from the Harry D. Thiers Herbarium on campus, some as old as 100 years, and compares their morphology -- the leaves, hairs, shape and length -- to present day species. In the Conservation Genetics Lab, Walden grinds up the leaves she collects during her fieldwork and examines the plants' DNA.

"The results of Genevieve's master's thesis will not only add substantially to our understanding of Phacelia, and of similar plant groups in North America, they will propel her into a high-end Ph.D. program," said Professor of Biology Robert Patterson. "This award is an important springboard for Genevieve to proceed with her research, and eventually on to a career as a professor of environmental botany."

Walden is the third SF State student to receive an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship award in the last six years. She earned a bachelor's in botany from University of California, Davis and began a master's in biology at SF State in 2007.

Designed to boost the United States' human resource base of science and engineering researchers, NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are offered to outstanding students in the sciences, mathematics and engineering. Past fellows include Google founder Sergey Brin and co-author of "Freakonomics" Steven Levitt.

-- Elaine Bible


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