Scripps Alumni Rise to Top Posts, Garner Awards


Across the globe, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego alumni are rising to new career heights. President Barack Obama nominated Scripps alumna Marcia McNutt to become director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and science advisor to the Secretary of the Interior.  Alumnus Dietmar Muller was awarded an Australian Laureate Fellowship and alumnus Josh Willis received a Presidential Early Career Award.

McNutt studied geophysics at Scripps Oceanography and earned her Ph.D. in earth sciences in 1978.  Following her graduate training she spent three years with the USGS in California working on earthquake prediction.

In a July 9 White House press release, President Obama said of McNutt and two other nominees to federal posts, "I am grateful that these three talented individuals have decided to join my administration at a critical time for our nation, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead."

She is currently president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, a world-class center for advanced research and education in ocean science and technology founded by David Packard in 1987 and located in Moss Landing, Calif.

"It is a distinct honor to be asked by the President to serve his administration, especially given the high caliber of science appointments already made," McNutt said. "Scientific information from the US Geological Survey is crucial to solving the most important problems facing society-finding sufficient supplies of fresh water and clean energy and providing accurate information that allows citizens to prepare intelligently for climate change. I look forward to leading such a respected institution at this critical time."

McNutt has participated in 15 major oceanographic expeditions and served as chief scientist on more than half of those voyages.  She has published 90 peer-reviewed scientific articles and also chaired the President's Panel on Ocean Exploration convened by President Bill Clinton to examine the possibility of initiating a major U.S. program in exploring the oceans.

Australian Laureate Fellow Dietmar Muller

Muller, professor and head of the School of Geoscience at the University of Sydney, is one of 15 world-leading scholars awarded the 2009 Australian Laureate Fellowship, worth around $2.7 million each.

Professor Muller obtained his Ph.D. in earth sciences from Scripps Oceanography in 1993. After receiving his Ph.D., he moved to Australia and established the University of Sydney Institute of Marine Science and was the director until 2005. He has also been involved in building the international EarthByte e-research group.

"I created the Australian Laureate Fellowships to give researchers at the peak of their careers the opportunity to develop and mentor strong teams of emerging talent," said Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research in Australia.

Muller's research has focused on understanding Earth processes by merging conventional geological and geophysical data with advanced kinematic and dynamic models. Professor Muller is regarded as an international leader in reconstructing the earth's geological evolution.

"I owe a lot to my own mentors at Scripps, without whose support and friendship during my Ph.D. I would not be where I am today, Muller said.  "Special thanks go to my supervisor, John Sclater, as well as to Dave Sandwell, Lisa Tauxe, Cathy Constable and Steve Cande."  Muller is working jointly with several Scripps researchers to link the Scripps paleomagnetic database, MagIC paleomagnetic, to his free software, GPlates, in an effort to create a paleomap-making web service.

Presidential Early Career Award Recipient Josh Willis

President Barack Obama named Willis, a recent graduate of Scripps Oceanography, as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Willis, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., received his doctorate from Scripps in 2004. He was a student of Scripps physical oceanographer Dean Roemmich. Currently Willis uses data from satellites and ocean measurements taken at sea to study the impact of global warming on the oceans.

"I feel deeply honored," said Willis, 34.  "It is both humbling and inspiring to be recognized for my previous work as well as my future potential.  It's also especially exciting to be honored by an administration that places such a high priority on science."

The recipient scientists and engineers will receive their awards in the fall at a White House ceremony.

Willis credited Roemmich for giving him the "confidence to ask tough questions."

Roemmich said Willis' work as a student made significant contributions to the endeavor to estimate global ocean warming.

"At JPL he is growing into one of our field's leading analysts and proponents of global ocean observations for understanding climate variability and change," he said.

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