Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate student receives two grants for archeogenomics research

January 23, 2024 - by Sarah Igram

Heather Chamberlain-Irwin, Ph.D. student in the interdisciplinary Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program and co-advised by anthropologist Dr. Andrew Somerville (Department of World Languages and Cultures) and maize geneticist Dr. Matthew Hufford (Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology), is the recipient of two prestigious dissertation funding awards in the amount of $63,000.

Heather Chamberlain-Irwin


Chamberlain-Irwin’s work applies emerging methods from genetics to maize specimens recovered in archaeological field work in Peru. Her investigations of maize varieties across different sites aim to shed light on ancient communities’ agricultural practices and what they can tell us about maize diversity and tactics of an expanding state.

The National Science Foundation Archaeology Program – Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants ($38,000) supports doctoral laboratory and field research on archaeologically relevant topics, with the goal of increasing anthropologically focused understanding of the past.

The Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant ($25,000) funds doctoral research that advances anthropological knowledge to support work that furthers our understanding of what it means to be human.

These awards will foster the acquisition of invaluable experience and training within the realm of ancient genetics, called archeogenomics. They provide Chamberlain-Irwin with essential funding for the comprehensive process of procuring, exporting, sequencing, and AMS radiocarbon dating of archaeological plant specimens. The emerging field of archeogenomics relies on the development of skilled and visionary leaders who can continually expand the horizons of what can be achieved with ancient DNA.

 This ambitious project, encompassing hundreds of specimens spanning millennia, stands as a pioneering endeavor in this field. It strongly aligns with Iowa State's esteemed reputation as pioneers in scientific and technological research.

“The awards are important because this project is bigger than me. The results will inform the fields of anthropology, archaeology, and maize genetics,” Chamberlain-Irwin said. “The broader impacts will empower local farmers through documentation and curation of diverse regional germplasm, provide educational opportunities through training of undergraduate and graduate students, and establish a meaningful link between the past and the present for future researchers.

Tags: ecology evolution and organismal biology, academic awards