Remembering Physicist and Educator Dr. Jim Rohr

Jim Rohr had a 30 year career with the Department of Defense at Spawar Systems Center (SSC) Pacific in San Diego, first as a research physicist studying fluid mechanics, underwater acoustics, and marine biology. He obtained a Ph.D. in Engineering Physics at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). He served for several years as a research associate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and lectured at UCSD in the Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Department.

After helping manage SSC Pacific’s research portfolio, he was asked to champion a new outreach program, the purpose of which was to attract more U.S. students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This program grew exponentially and through an army of volunteers soon provided over 200 events a year, involving thousands of students and over a hundred teachers. Retiring from the DoD in 2015, he continued his outreach efforts through the National Marine Mammal Foundation. 

Jim was a personable and energetic scientist and educator, infecting others with his enthusiasm and love of science. We worked together on many projects involving the flow stimulation of bioluminescence. The highlight was studying dolphin hydrodynamics using bioluminescence as a flow marker; Jim arranged for us to work with Navy dolphins at SSC Pacific.

Jim received major awards for community outreach: Spirit of Preuss Award – 2015; Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., STEM and Diversity Champion of the Year – 2014; UCSD Distinguished Service Award – 2013; DON Meritorious Civilian Service Award – 2012; SSC Pac Center Team Achievement Award – 2011; Navy Key Influencer Award  – 2009; SSC Pacific Technical Director’s Award – 2008.

U.S. Postal Stamps on Bioluminescent Life

The U.S. Postal Service has issued stamps related to bioluminescence. From their web site:

Bioluminescence – the ability of some living things to generate their own light – occurs on many branches of the tree of life. With this sheet of 20 stamps, the U.S. Postal Service showcases 10 examples of Bioluminescent Life.

The stamps feature: deep-ocean octopus, midwater jellyfish, deep-sea comb jelly, bamboo coral, marine worm, crown jellyfish, sea pen (photos by Edith Widder), a second type of marine worm (photo by Steve Haddock), mushroom (photo by Taylor Lockwood), and firefly (photo by Gail Shumway). The selvage features a transparent deep-sea comb jelly (photo by Gregory Dimijian), surrounded by images of the firefly squid (photo by Danté Fenolio). The stamps and selvage were designed by art director Derry Noyes.

What’s In a Name? Lingulodinium polyedra, the dinoflagellate formerly known as L. polyedrum and Gonyaulax polyedra

A 1989 paper by John Dodge rocked the dinoflagellate community. The much loved and studied dinoflagellate Gonyaulax polyedra, known for its spectacular bioluminescent displays and red tides in southern California and elsewhere, was renamed based on new insights into its morphology and to align the name with that of its spiny cyst, then known as Lingulodinium machaerophorum. So the motile form of the dinoflagellate, originally described by Stein in 1883, was changed from Gonyaulax to Lingulodinium because you can’t have two names for the same organism.

Reluctantly we adopted the new name and used it in our publications. However, Lingulodinium polyedra didn’t seem right, based on the word endings, so Lingulodinium polyedrum became commonly used, even though we cited the Dodge 1989 paper, which called it Lingulodinium polyedra. Out of 220 publications since then, 95% used L. polyedrum. Now it’s time to change again. Based on the Latin derivation, polyedrum is incorrect.

According to Brown’s “Composition of Scientific Words” (p. 715):

Gr. hedra, f. seat, chair, base, plane, side; hedrion, n. dim.; hedraios, sitting,
sessile, sedentary, stable, steadfast; hedranon, n. abode, dwelling, seat;
ephedra, f. a sitting by, siege; ephedros, sitting upon; kathedra, f. seat of a
bishop, abode, fundament, rump: hedrocele, tetrahedral, dodecahedron, octahedrite, cathedral, Sanhedrin, chair, chaise, Edrioaster[Hedrioastersaratogensis (a cystoid), Ephedra distachys (a joint-fir), Gonyaulax polyhedra (a flagellate).
So, polyedra, according to this authoritative source, is a noun, which means the name is Lingulodinium polyedra, as nouns are non-declinable when used in apposition.

This is how it is explained in the taxonomic resource AlgaeBase:

Nomenclatural notes
The epithet “polyedra” is a noun in apposition and is non-declinable, so use of the epithet “polyedrum”, supposedly to agree with the gender of the genus name, is incorrect. ICN Art 23.5 [Melbourne Code]: “The specific epithet, when adjectival in form and not used as a noun, agrees grammatically with the generic name; when it is a noun in apposition or a genitive noun, it retains its own gender and termination irrespective of the gender of the generic name. Epithets not conforming to this rule are to be corrected (see Art. 32.2).” – (6 Jan 2018) – M.D. Guiry

The correct name, Lingulodinium polyedra, now appears in AlgaeBase and the World Registry of Marine Species (WoRMS). In a recent publication we referred to it as Lingulodinium polyedra (F. Stein) J. D. Dodge 1989 (formerly Gonyaulax polyedra; by many authors Lingulodinium polyedrum).


Thanks to Michael Guiry for assistance in resolving this issue.

Recovery of Caribbean Bioluminescent Bays after Hurricane Maria

On September 20, Hurricane Maria slammed into the VIrgin Islands as a category 5 hurricane and pounded Puerto Rico as a category 4. With torrential rain and wind gusts up to 200 miles per hour, it caused widespread devastation including loss of electricity and cell service for the entire territory.

The hurricane also impacted four bioluminescent bays. Unlike our local bioluminescent red tides, which are unpredictable in occurrence and appear only every couple of years, the bioluminescent bays of the Caribbean exhibit bright bioluminescence throughout the year and are extremely popular for ecotourism and contribute greatly to the local economy. These bays are extremely rare mangrove ecosystems, with a total area less than 5 sq km in the Caribbean. The four impacted bioluminescent bays include three in Puerto Rico and one in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.
Three of the four bioluminescent bays went dark after Maria, due to multiple factors including freshwater runoff and high winds. The good news is that the bioluminescence of Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Laguna Grande in Fajardo, and the Salt River Bay bioluminescent bay in St. Croix have recovered. Phosphorescent Bay in La Parguera was largely spared.
El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest within the territorial U.S., is closed indefinitely because of major slides that blocked the access road.
Everyone has been working hard to clear debris to allow ecotourism activities to be re-established. Nighttime tours should resume within a few weeks to most of the bioluminescent bays. According to one tour operator:
“I have never seen the amount of Federal works from all over the United States, forest rangers, FEMA, US Corp of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife and the army all engaged with the island and the rebuilding of the rainforest!  We have outside Electric companies from NC, TX and others working to reestablish the light and communications!”

“The Artistry of Dinoflagellate Bioluminescence”

In a new article, Dr. Latz explores his artist collaborations in expressing the aesthetic beauty of nature in a creative way that avoids the technical details and jargon that tend to limit the effectiveness of science communication. The objective of the artists’ works is to engage the viewer and perhaps provide the opportunity to educate the curious about science. The article describes the motivation behind the collaborations and includes representative artwork.

You can download the article here: Latz2017_artistry of dinoflagellate BL

Infinity Cube Bioluminescence Art Exhibit at the Birch Aquarium

Infinity Cube, an innovative exhibit featuring bioluminescence, opened April 7 at the Birch Aquarium of Scripps. In collaboration with Dr. Latz, London-based artist Iyvone Khoo has created a dark ‘sensorial space’ of light projection and sound within a reflective cube to create an immersive experience.

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Birch Aquarium

Art is a creative way to express the beauty of nature and communicate what science seeks to understand, without the jargon and technical details. An innovative aspect of Infinity Cube is the use of haiku, a Japanese form of poetry, to communicate science concepts. Visitors learn about luminescent organisms, how bioluminescence functions as a form of communication, its chemistry, and the need for protection of bioluminescent bays. The synergy between artist and scientist provides an opportunity for engage, inspire, and explore.

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Birch Aquarium

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Birch Aquarium

Infinity Cube was generously supported by Patty and Rick Elkus; the interpretative component was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Local and national press has included:

Bioluminescence Art Exhibit Coming to the Birch Aquarium of Scripps

Infinity Cube, an immersive art installation focusing on bioluminescence, is coming to the Birch Aquarium in April 2017. Based on a collaboration between London-based artist Iyvone Khoo and Dr. Latz, it consists of a ‘sensorial space’ that explores the aesthetic beauty of dinoflagellate bioluminescence via video projections onto a reflecting cube, accompanied by soundscapes. This unique installation serves as a way to engage the public with the goal of communicating science without jargon and technical details.

Some of the still images are now being displayed in London:

Navy Interest in Bioluminescence

The military has long been interested in bioluminescence. For a while the U.S. Navy was a major supporter of ocean research in bioluminescence. Did you know that the last German U-boat sunk during World War I was detected based on the bioluminescence it stimulated? A recent article in the online magazine Atlas Obscura relates that story, and discusses the history of U.S. Navy and Soviet interest in ocean bioluminescence.

scripps oceanography uc san diego