Matthew Moher - 2005 Winning Essay

Tropical rainforests harbor a plethora of virtually untapped intellectual resources. Indigenous rainforest peoples are profoundly knowledgeable of their surrounding environment. Ethnobotany, the study of cultural plant use, is an excellent way to prescreen these biodiversity-rich areas for beneficial plants.

My objective is to undertake a Master's degree through the University of Ottawa studying the ethnobotany of the Belizean Maya. I intend to survey medicinal plants over the Mayan Mountain region between Belize and Guatemala.

This work could potentially lead to the discovery of novel medical compounds.

I've been preparing for this work indirectly for quite some time. At 16, I volunteered through Canada World Youth in a rural Costa Rican village. Two summers ago, I volunteered at Casa Guatemala, a remote orphanage supporting and educating abandoned and abused Guatemalan children. I also speak Spanish fluently.

I gained exposure to the field of botany by volunteering in phytochemistry labs. I worked continuously, eventually taking on independent projects. Last year I was awarded a contract to investigate the ethnobotany of arctic marine algae in Kangirsuk, a remote Inuit community. I'm presently finishing my Honours research project, implementing molecular biology methods to study an endemic Costa Rican tree. In April, I will have achieved a B.Sc, Honours Biology degree from the University of Ottawa.

I've been awarded several scholarships for my academic achievements, and am recognized by the Dean's honour list. I'm currently a candidate for NSERC and OGS research grants. Receiving a Mensa Scholarship would be a distinct honour and appreciated encouragement.