Dr Peter Girguis, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and Adjunct Oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, described by his peers as ‘the epitome of a deep-sea explorer’ and ‘a man for all ocean seasons”, has been announced the winner of the 2023 Captain Don Walsh Award for Ocean Exploration by the Marine Technology Society (MTS) and the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT).
Peter Girguis’ prolific career is dedicated to increasing understanding of the animals and microbes that thrive in the deep sea. His profound dedication lies in advancing deep-sea exploration to expand humanity’s understanding of the natural world. Colleagues have paid tribute to his leadership, attributing it to his capacity for expansive thinking in ocean science – considering what the field requires to flourish and identifying emerging scientific questions.
His primary focus is to understand how marine organisms have adapted to their habitats and how they respond to a changing world. Within his research, his team made groundbreaking discoveries of previously unknown microbe communities that ‘eat’ methane at unprecedented rates, keeping the greenhouse gas out of our atmosphere. His pioneering efforts continued with the development of innovative methods to grow the deep-sea microbes that are responsible to keeping methane out of the atmosphere.
Receiving news of his win he said: “I am deeply honored to be the recipient of this award. I know there are many others who qualify for this recognition, so I view myself as representing all of us, from all backgrounds and walks of life, who have contributed to ocean exploration.
“To paraphrase Captain Walsh, there’s a lot of work left to do in exploring and understanding our ocean, so I will continue to do my part and support as many others as I can on our journey to further understand this ocean world on which we live.”
Dr Girguis’ peers also talk of his “deep commitment to supporting scholars from underrepresented groups at Harvard University and beyond by developing and supporting programs that earnestly improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.” To elaborate: “He has collaborated with submersible and ROV operators to establish an expeditionary program with cost-effectiveness, enabling a diverse group of individuals to participate in deep-sea exploration missions. Additionally, he played a key role in co-founding a Harvard/high school internship program, leads diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts in ocean sciences in the U.S. and abroad, and works closely with United Nations delegates to promote democratization of ocean sciences around the world.”.
The presentation of the Captain Don Walsh Award for Ocean Exploration, by Don Walsh, is scheduled to take place at Oceanology International 2024 (London’s ExCeL 12-14 March).
MTS and SUT Presidents share their enthusiasm
MTS President Justin Manley noted: “Dr Girguis is a prominent and key thought leader for the ocean exploration community. His technical contributions are widely recognized and appreciated. Having had the opportunity to spend time with Peter, I can highlight that his passion for the subject is infectious. Peter always shares captivating stories, offers kind words, and greets others with a warm and welcoming smile. The marine technology community feels privileged to have Dr Girguis as one of its esteemed members.”
As SUT’s President, Moya Crawford, said of Dr Girguis’ win: “One of the great strengths of the SUT is its broad coverage and connectivity. Decades of conducting deep water cargo recovery has given me rather more first-hand experience of ‘tubeworms’ (vestimentifans) than most might expect. Therefore, it is my pleasure that this year’s Captain Don Walsh Award goes to Dr Peter Girguis, as a scientist who has brought together the application of technology, with animal physiology and technical ingenuity to recover these amazing creatures to the surface, in order to better understand how they live in what we consider to be such extreme conditions. It is very fitting that his research and endeavour should be marked by this year’s Captain Don Walsh Award.”
Peter Girguis is no stranger to winning awards and accolades. He was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and The Explorer’s Club. He received the Petra Shattuck Excellence in Teaching award, the Lowell Thomas Award for Engineering Exploration, the Lindbergh Foundation Award for Science & Sustainability (microbial fuel cells), the State of California’s Distinguished Community Service Award; and received Discover Magazine’s ‘10 Everyday Technologies That Can Change the World’ (microbe-powered lighting for the developing world.
About Peter Girguis’ work
Further information on Peter Girguis and the lab’s work is at
https://girguislab.oeb.harvard.edu/people/peter-girguis and includes a link to his latest C.V.