Jessica Johnson ’22 Named NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholar

Back to All Stories

Jessica Johnson ’22 has been selected for the,an individualized and accelerated doctoral training program for outstanding students committed to biomedical research careers. NIH Oxford-Cambridge (OxCam) students partner with two investigators — one at the NIH and another at the University of Oxford or University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom — to perform a single collaborative dissertation project.

“The NIH OxCam program is so incredibly unique,” Johnson states. “It allows me to utilize the resources of vastly different, yet highly adept, research institutions. In a way, this synergetic international collaboration is a macrocosm of my own interdisciplinary interests.”

Johnson, an astrogeophysics major and German minor, is keenly interested in aerospace medicine, studying sustainable human health in weightlessness and extreme climates. Her research interests, at the intersection of physics, planetary science, and the cardiovascular system, guided her proposed research with OxCam. Johnson will be heading to Oxford in the fall to work with Ellie Tzima, PhD. They will study endothelial cell mechanosensor response to turbulent blood flow and shear stress in human vasculature. These effects are inherent factors of venous diseases and adverse fluid circulation in microgravity.

While at Colgate, Johnson was highly engaged with the physics and German departments, tutoring for both. She worked closely with Professor Joseph Levy, researching boulder banding across Martian glaciers; the remote sensing of desert playa hydropatterns in Alvord, Oregon; and organic matter accumulation and distributions along water tracks in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. This work spanned three years and culminated in a six-week field expedition to Antarctica in December 2022.

In addition to being highly focused on her research and academics, Johnson has been a strong proponent of advocacy through outreach. She was a founding member of the Colgate Student Coalition, for which she served as an adviser to the Internal Affairs Committee in the spring of 2020. This group created the social justice series 13 Days of Education and raised $75,000 in support of bail funds for individuals arrested as part of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. She was also a German language coordinator for the Foreign Language Program at Hamilton Central School, sharing her knowledge of German language, history, and customs with local second graders.

Additionally, Johnson was an active student leader on campus. She was the president of the German Club, co-president of both the Senior Honors Society and Star ’Gate, and a student language ambassador at the Keck Center for Language Study.

Johnson’s focus and academic achievement have not gone unnoticed. She has been honored with the Valentine Piotrow Prize in German Excellence, , Delta Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Kappa Daniel H. Saracino Prize for Scholarship of Exceptional Merit, Physics and Astronomy Joseph C. Amato and Anthony F. Aveni Award for Student Research, (IRTA), and the Antarctica Service Medal. Most recently, she was recognized as one of 100 Polar Women by the Women in Polar Science Network and featured on the for her research at Colgate, in Antarctica, and at the NIH.

Currently, Johnson is completing the second year of her IRTA fellowship in the Multiscale Imaging and Integrative Biophysics Unit at the NIH under Dan Benjamini, PhD. They utilize novel, frequency-dependent multidimensional diffusion MRI techniques in the in vivo human brain to characterize tissue microstructure and degeneration. The goal is to apply this work to age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. She is also a semifinalist for a Fulbright Research Grant in Germany.

“In life, do something you enjoy, even if it makes no sense to anyone else, and always take a moment to recognize the pillars who uplift you and challenge you to be your best,” advises Johnson. “I want to thank my family; professors Joe Levy, Jonathan Levine, and Matthew Miller; Steve Wright and ONFS and the many others who have provided critical guidance along my journey.”

To learn more about the NIH OxCam Scholars Program or other national competitive awards, reach out to Meghan Niedt, mniedt@colgate.edu, in the Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships to schedule an appointment.