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Biochemistry student wins University of Otago’s top undergraduate prize

Friday 7 February 2020 12:23pm

Jennifer Palmer in lab_650

Jennifer Palmer, Otago Biochemistry’s top 300-level student in 2019, has also been awarded the prestigious Prince of Wales Prize.

This is the University’s premier undergraduate award, which recognises both academic ability and extra-curricular interests, and is awarded annually to the most outstanding students completing an undergraduate or honours degree across all divisions of the University. Jennifer was awarded the prize in science, and therefore shares the Prince of Wales award this year with the humanities prize winner.

Originally from Whangaparaoa, where she attended Orewa College, Jennifer came to Otago with an interest in how brains work, so enrolled in a BSc majoring in neuroscience.

“During my first year, I found that I was really enjoying the biochemistry papers I was taking, and learned that many of our breakthroughs in health and disease are due to investigations into molecular interactions, so I added biochemistry as a second major.”

She is now finishing a summer research project that focuses on the biochemical end of neuroscience, supervised by the Department’s Associate Professors Steph Hughes and Peter Mace. Jennifer will continue research in Steph’s neurodegenerative and lysosomal diseases lab this year, investigating how a protein called RNF167 regulates the movement of lysosomes (cell recycling factories) in neurons, a process that is dysfunctional in neurodegeneration.

“I really love the intersection of cell biology and protein biochemistry, and am excited for my BSc (Hons) in biochemistry this year.”

Jennifer is a high achiever, even in the face of adversity, and pursues many interests outside of the lab.

She was diagnosed and treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma during her undergraduate studies. However, after learning she was in full remission, she ran in and completed the full-length Dunedin marathon last September, raising money towards a scholarship for young people with cancer experiences to voyage on board the Spirit of New Zealand sailing ship. Jennifer volunteers on board the Spirit of New Zealand, helping other young people learn basic sailing and seamanship, as well as teamwork, leadership and kaitiakitanga of the environment.

While at university, her love of tramping has been morphing into a passion for mountaineering, and continuing to explore the beautiful South Island alpine environment is also at the top of her to-do list.

As well as all of this, Jennifer helps with STEM communication for young New Zealanders, visiting South Auckland to inspire younger students to excel in science. She is a EUREKA! Board Alumni Trustee - she won the Sir Paul Callaghan Eureka! Premier Award for science communication back in 2015 when still at high school.

Jennifer is the winner of the 2019 Edson Prize for the top student in the 300-level biochemistry class. You can find out about the other Otago Biochemistry academic awards and their winners for 2019 here.

Congratulations Jennifer from the Department, and all the best for a very bright future.