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Fulbrighter Camila Martinez is using paleobotany to learn about the future

Camila Martinez is a Fulbright scholar from Colombia. She is pursuing a doctoral program in Paleobotany at Cornell University where she researches the fossil record of plants.


Camila Martinez is a time traveler of sorts. Through her research in the field of Paleobotany, she is reaching deep into the past, examining the fossil record of plants, to learn about how tropical ecosystems on our planet evolved over millions of years. Learning more about these large scale and long term processes is not only critical for understanding our past but it is also key for grappling with our future. Martinez explains that Paleobotany can allow us to go back in time millions of years ago to understand the conditions when carbon dioxide (CO2) levels were the same as they are predicted to be in the year 2100.


As a child, Martinez never imagined she would become a paleontologist, however the trips she took with her family to view the dramatic and diverse landscapes of her native Colombia spurred an early interest in nature. The moment that definitively pointed her down the path of Paleobotany came much later, in the midst of deciding on an undergraduate thesis topic at the Universidad de los Andes, when she had the opportunity to attend a lecture by a Paleobiologist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “I was amazed to learn how the fossil record of plants lets you travel back in time and see how entire ecosystems evolved! In that moment, I decided that was what I wanted to work on for the rest of my life,” Martinez explains.


After completing both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the Universidad de los Andes, Martinez received a Fulbright scholarship to pursue doctoral studies at Cornell University. With the support of the Fulbright scholarship administered by Laspau, studying her Ph.D. abroad has been both enriching and inspiring. Martinez describes Cornell as a campus where she has been able to meet students, researchers, professors and even world leaders from a variety of fields and countries. Among the most impactful was a talk by the President of Iceland on his country’s ability to sustain itself in large part on oil-free energy sources. His message, Martinez recounts, “gave me hope for possible improvements in the future of the world as well as changes that could occur in the short term.”

“I was amazed to learn how the fossil record of plants lets you travel back in time and see how entire ecosystems evolved! In that moment, I decided that was what I wanted to work on for the rest of my life.”

Throughout her doctoral program, Martinez has maintained close ties with her alma mater, leading field expeditions and even advising the theses of several undergraduate students. As for her plans when she returns to Colombia, she is deeply committed to sharing the knowledge she has gained through teaching and mentoring undergraduate students. With the passion and knowledge Martinez has for the area, she is sure to inspire future generations of Colombian researchers.

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