Fulbright Scholar bridges the gap toward better human health

Jacob Boyd Johnson will begin studying immunotoxicology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich for 10 months as part of the Fulbright Scholar program.

By Amber Friedrichsen

Jacob Boyd Johnson aspires to one day lead a research lab and develop new methods for stopping the spread of human diseases. The newly awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Program Scholar will travel to Germany for the next leg in his journey to reaching his goals.

Beginning in September, Johnson, who graduated this spring from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in toxicology, will begin studying immunotoxicology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich for 10 months. He will be researching the effects nanoparticles in the ocean have on the health of fish and of the people who eat fish.

As a graduate student at Iowa State, he studied the effects of pesticides on insects like mosquitoes. Despite studying different species of animals, Johnson said his research ultimately comes down to improving human health.

“My main goal is to learn immunology techniques that I can use wherever I go to next,” Johnson said. “I want to lead a lab and I want to help people because there is a lot of places around the world that really struggle with a lot of debilitating diseases.”

There are many reasons Johnson is looking forward to studying abroad, but some of the most prominent are the leadership skills and global perspective he hopes to gain. He will be working alongside scientists from Egypt, Thailand and many parts of Europe.

Working with others is not a foreign concept to Johnson, though. He said much of his success as an undergraduate and graduate student was the product of encouragement and inspiration from his peers in Iowa State's entomology and toxicology departments.

Johnson was actively involved in the Entomology Graduate Student Organization, eventually being elected president. The club annually hosts events to share knowledge of entomology, especially with children. Johnson and other club members put on events like the Pollinator Festival and the Insect Fun Festival, which teach kids about insects.

In addition to fellow students, faculty members supported Johnson when he was applying to the Fulbright Program. He said Joel Coats, Distinguished Professor of entomology, has been one of the most important people in shaping his academic career.

“He was always supportive of any idea I had along the way,” Johnson said. “That was really key in helping me get to this point.”

Johnson also credits Amy Andreotti, University Professor in biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, for assisting in his path to success. Andreotti, who served as Johnson’s mentor during graduate school, helped him become a Fulbright Scholar, as well as get accepted to the University of Toronto where he will obtain a doctorate in immunology upon returning from the Fulbright program.

Studying immunotoxicology in Germany will serve as a valuable transition from Johnson’s background in toxicology to what he plans to study in the future. He anticipates the opportunity to conduct research and collaborate with international scientists as a Fulbright Scholar will benefit him in the next step of his education and into his career.

“The fact that I will have perspectives from a very different part of the world will be really helpful in many parts of life,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to meet as many people from as many different backgrounds as I can.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It annually provides grants to more than 1,500 students, scholars, teachers and other professionals the opportunity to study, research and teach in over 140 countries worldwide.