Nikea Ulrich, Environmental Microbiolgy
Juniata College
2016 Goldwater Scholar

Nikea Ulrich’s interest in science was present from the time she was very young. “My dad is a high school Earth Science and Astronomy teacher,” she explained. “When I was eight years old, my dad and I along with my three brothers and one sister, woke up at two a.m. to drive out in the country, lay out in a field, and view the Leonid Showers. The image of millions of seemingly falling stars remains in my memory; my dad told us that we might not ever see something like that again. Since then, science has fascinated me.”

In high school, Ulrich began to consider a career in research science, and upon arriving at Juniata College in 2013, she quickly found strong research mentorship from Dr. Regina Lamendella. For the rest of her undergraduate career, she pursued environmental microbiology, researching the impacts of anthropogenic activities on ecosystems by detecting the response of microbial communities. In 2015 Ulrich was awarded a Goldwater honorable mention, and in 2016 she was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship. Of winning the Goldwater Scholarship, Nikea reflects, “It was the first kind of recognition I received for the research I was pursuing, and it propelled me forward by helping me realize the importance of challenging myself. I approached my research with renewed motivation, and I began to set higher expectations, higher goals.” While studying abroad in Marburg, Germany in 2016, she used this newfound motivation to pursue new research experiences at the Max Planck Institute of Terrestrial Microbiology, where she spent a semester in the lab of Dr. Andreas Brune investigating the presence of sulfate-reducing bacteria within the Zootermopsis sp. termite gut.

The Goldwater Scholarship allowed Ulrich to realize that the work she was doing was competitive at the national level and gave her the courage to apply for prestigious fellowships and graduate programs. Ulrich was awarded a Fulbright research fellowship to spend 2017-18 working in the Space Microbiology Lab under Dr. Ralf Möller within the German Aerospace Center in Cologne, Germany. Following her Fulbright experience, she will return to the U.S. to begin her Ph.D. studies in environmental microbiology in the Organismal Biology, Ecology, and Evolution program at the University of Montana.