Nancy Knowlton Elected to Prestigious Science Organizations


The prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has elected Nancy Knowlton, an adjunct professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and founding director of the groundbreaking Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) at Scripps, as one of its newest members.

In being recognized with one of the nation's highest honors for scientists and engineers, Knowlton joins Peter Novick, professor of cellular and molecular medicine and George Palade Endowed Chair, and Nicholas Spitzer, distinguished professor of biology, as UC San Diego's newest NAS members. Founded in 1863 through a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln, the NAS is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare.

Separately, Knowlton also was elected a 2013 Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAS), a 230-year-old learned society "of men and women of exceptional achievement." Other new AAS members from UC San Diego include neuroscientist Steven Allen Hillyard, linguist David Perlmutter, and anthropologist Kathryn Ann Woolard.

Knowlton, a marine ecologist who has rapidly advanced the field of coral reef biology, has revolutionized studies of reef bleaching and species evolution and identification.

"Her work has revealed new, unexpected levels of diversity in the marine microbial environment," her NAS nomination proposal noted. "She is a leader in linking reef basic research to effective conservation."

Knowlton also was cited for advancements in educational initiatives.

CMBC was launched in May 2001 through Knowlton's vision of a center that would forge new ground in scientific discovery and contribute to solutions of benefit to the environment and society. To address rising threats such as pollution, overfishing, and climate change, the center has been rooted in biological and ecological sciences and forges new links with faculty and students in the social sciences, such as economics.

"I've spent my entire career studying biodiversity on the one hand and watching the health of marine ecosystems decline on the other. By the time I got to Scripps in 1998, I was really inspired to do something to bring these two themes together," said Knowlton, now the Sant Chair of Marine Science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, at the 2012 CMBC 10th anniversary celebration. "Scripps was the perfect place to do this because it had-and has-such strength in both of these areas. More than anything, CMBC has provided the glue that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts."

Today, the center that Knowlton envisioned has exceeded expectations. From the coast of California to Baja California to uninhabited islands in the Central Pacific Ocean, CMBC scientists are making discoveries important not only for science but for the global community. CMBC-trained students continue to forge ahead with new science and contribute to marine conservation from positions in state and federal government, academia, industry, and non-governmental organizations.

Knowlton, along with her colleagues at Scripps, also created two unique interdisciplinary education programs within CMBC. She and former colleague Lisa Shaffer created the Masters of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, and initiated an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program by obtaining NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) award. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program has innovatively trained students to integrate natural sciences and socio-economic themes, to communicate science to the public and decision makers, to conduct to interdisciplinary, team-based problem-solving and to foster analytical skills with a global outlook.

"We are incredibly proud of Nancy and all that she has accomplished. Nancy's prescience in creating CMBC was remarkable. Her ideas are now echoed in NSF initiatives, centers, and programs around the country," said Lisa Levin, current director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps.

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