LANL Biologist Dr. Nathan McDowell To Speak At Phi Beta Kappa Banquet Honoring High School Scholars

LANL biologist Dr. Nathan McDowell. Courtesy photo


Sunday evening, April 26, the Los Alamos Phi Beta Kappa Association will hold its 59th annual banquet to honor the top graduates of Los Alamos High School.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest undergraduate honor society in the United States and has about 230 members in Los Alamos County (1.3 percent of the county’s population). The banquet for the honor graduates, Phi Beta Kappa Members, and their guests will be held at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos starting at 5:30 p.m. and catered by The Blue Window.

The 52 students of the Class of 2015 who will be honored this year are Esteban Abeyta, Brianna Bayardo, Daniel Ben-Naim, Jyelyn Bold, Melanie Borup, Sarah Bouquin, Chelsea Challacombe, Gerald Collom, Sarah Criscuolo, Caitlin Dahl, Sudeep Dasari, Eleanor Devlin, Jenna Erickson, Morgan Ferry, Sally Grindstaff, Thomas Hanlon, Astrid Hengartner, Jacob Holesinger, Luke Kachelmeier, Chloe Keilers, Everett Key, Dakota Klasky, Erin Kober, Felicity Kubic, Megan Kuzmack, Madeleine le Scouarnec, Amber Logan, Helen Lu, Gianna Maggiore, Aletta Marciano, Katharine Margevicius, David Murphy, Alexi Ortega, Eric Paige, Michelle Pederson, Kimberly Pestovich, Emma Phillips, Benjamin Reichelt, Emily Rybarcyk, Alice Shao, Samuel Sherrill, Rachel Sledzik, Sara Stubben, Alexander Swart, Vincent Tang, Zoe Tauxe, Matthew Ticknor, Nicholas Torres, Ashvini Vaidya, Sarah Wallstrom, Daniel Wang and William Zhao.

At the banquet, the Los Alamos Phi Beta Kappa Association will award a $1,000 scholarship to a student who has demonstrated a commitment to the humanities and sciences, and who plans to pursue that interest in college. The annual Jay Woodward Memorial book award, commemorating an outstanding LAHS student body president and scholar, will also be presented at the banquet. This award was initiated in 1957 by Jay’s parents, John and Miriam, both founding members of the local Phi Beta Kappa Association.

This year, Dr. Nathan McDowell of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory is the featured speaker at the banquet. His talk is titled Accelerating Global Forest Mortality. According to Dr. McDowell, “Climate change is forcing an apparently irreversible change in the Earth’s ecosystems; most notably forests are being lost and replaced by grasslands and shrublands due to heat- and drought-induced mortality. 

Evidence overwhelmingly shows that this transition is already happening, is accelerating, and will become far worse within [the students’] lifetimes.” Dr. McDowell will review the evidence for these conclusions and propose options for humankind to consider going forward. Further, he will discuss human roles and opportunities in climate change, science, and life.

Dr. McDowell has been a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory since 2004. He received his B.Sc. in Biology at the University of Michigan in 1994, his M.Sc. in Forest Ecology at the University of Idaho in 1998, and his Ph.D. in Tree Physiology at Oregon State University in 2002. He was awarded a Director’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at LANL in 2003. McDowell studies the inter-dependency of plant and ecosystem water and carbon cycles and their response to climate and disturbance. 

His approach is focused on mechanistic hypothesis testing utilizing a wide variety of techniques including theory, observation, experimentation and modeling. He has published about 90 papers since 2000, and advised 20 graduate students and 25 postdocs. McDowell is involved in several advisory committees for LANL, NSF and DOE and is an associate editor for two international journals.

He was awarded LANL’s Distinguished Mentor Award for advising undergraduates in 2008, the DOE Early-Career Award in 2010, and testified before Congress regarding DOE’s climate change research in 2009 and before the House in 2012 regarding climate impacts on forests of the intermountain west.

Members of Phi Beta Kappa who have not received an invitation to the banquet are encouraged to contact the organizers to attend or to sponsor a student’s attendance. The banquet cost is $35 per person. Contact Linda Hull by phone at 662-7950 or by E-mail at, or Ross Lemons by E-mail at by Wednesday, April 15, to reserve a place. Phi Beta Kappa members may also download the invitation and RSVP form at

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