Kristen Whalen, Gareth Williams, and Rob Modini are the newest additions to the Scripps Postdocoral Research Program.

Scripps Postdoc Program Gets a Boost

Gift from Sempra Energy Foundation energizes Scripps postdoctoral program

Now in its fourth year, the Scripps Postdcoctoral Scholar Program received a boost from the Sempra Energy Foundation, which provided $100,000 to support two of the program's three new postdoctoral recruits. Until this year, institutional funding covered these special postdoc positions, and additional postdocs were funded by the scientists whose research they supported. This institutional postdoctoral program at Scripps brings additional recruits to the already vibrant staff of postdoctoral scholars who support Scripps science operations.

Private support such Sempra's gift helps relieve Scripps' tight discretionary and research budgets. Gifts from E.W. Scripps Associates and the Roger Revelle Leadership Fund have also provided some support for postdocs in the past.

"Recruiting new scholars to the Scripps research team remains a top priority and we are extremely grateful for Sempra's generous support of our postdoc program," said Scripps Director Tony Haymet. "Postdocs bring new perspective and energy to our state, national, and global research initiatives. Their energy and innovation is crucial to moving Scripps into its second century on the cutting edge of ocean and earth science. "

Scripps' newest institutional postdocs are Rob Modini, who works with Professor Lynn Russell in atmospheric chemistry; Kristen Whalen, who works with Assistant Professor Amro Hamdoun in cellular biology; and Gareth Williams, who works with Assistant Professor Stuart Sandin in coral reef ecology. Whalen and Modini are the two postdoctoral fellows supported by Sempra. Each new recruit is bringing unique talent and energy to the research being conducted in their Scripps labs.

Representing Scripps' oceans and atmosphere section, Rob Modini's research is focused on measuring aerosols and evaluating their role in the climate system. His primary focus is on the atmosphere, but he is also interested in exploring how aerosols relate to the ocean biosphere and human impacts on the environment.

"Scripps is an incredible place to work," said Modini. "The combination of distinguished atmospheric and oceanographic scientists, unique infrastructure, and stunning ocean views is perfect for studying aerosols produced from the ocean."

As a member of the Hamdoun biological research team, Kristen Whalen is using the sea urchin as a model to better understand protective strategies used by organisms to cope with chemicals in their environment. She examines how these defensive mechanisms are orchestrated during the development of a sea urchin embryo. She is encouraged by how this new position at Scripps will advance her research goals.

"This postdoctoral fellowship will allow me to broaden my background in cell and developmental biology and to develop a more mechanistic understanding of chemical tolerance in organisms," said Whalen. "This experience has also benefited me by fostering intellectual independence to pursue innovative research at the junction of cell biology and toxicology, hopefully establishing me as a leader in the field one day."

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Also in the biology section, Gareth Williams is studying how human activities change the health, structure, and functioning of tropical coral reef ecosystems. More broadly, he is interested in what makes a coral reef system more resistant to change. His new position at Scripps allows Williams to continue working on coral ecology at Palmyra Atoll in the Line Islands in the South Pacific, the location of the majority of his Ph.D. fieldwork research. Within his first three weeks at Scripps, Williams' experience was already put to work during a four-week research cruise to the Northern Line Islands.

"The trip was mind-blowing," he said, "and to be surrounded by so many influential scientists was inspiring. Scripps is one of those famous marine labs you aspire to one day be part of; I still can't believe I am."

—Shannon Casey

March/April 2011


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