Endowed position is named in honor of William J. Patterson, former Chair of the Academy’s Board of Trustees.
SAN FRANCISCO (May 16, 2019) — The California Academy of Sciences has appointed Dr. Rebecca Albright, co-leader of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative, as the fourth Patterson Scholar in Science and Sustainability. The Patterson Scholar chairs are named in honor of the late William J. Patterson, Chair of the Academy’s Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010. These endowed chairs are made possible by friends, family, and colleagues in his memory.
“Bill Patterson was a true believer in the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life,” says Dr. Shannon Bennett, Academy Chief of Science. “Bill saw our museum scientists as the lifeblood of this special place, and his legacy has ensured that we can build on our research and discoveries to better understand and conserve our planet. Rebecca Albright’s passion for community engagement and the positive power of science will help magnify Bill’s inspiring vision for years to come.”
Saving the world’s coral reefs
Albright, a world-renowned coral reef biologist and former researcher at Stanford’s Carnegie Institution for Science, joined the Academy as a curator of invertebrate zoology in 2016. Her research on the ability of coral reefs to cope with change ingeniously digs into the twin climate issues of ocean acidification and warming seas.
Albright’s work spans the academic, government, and nonprofit sectors, and has transported her to coral reefs from the Florida Keys to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. She works across scales (from single cell interactions to reef-scale processes) and disciplines (biology, ecology, biogeochemistry) to foster a systems-level understanding of how coral reef ecosystems will fare in today's rapidly changing world. We have lost an estimated 50% of the world's coral reefs over the last several decades and are projected to lose more than 90% by 2050—a statistic Albright hopes to change through her scientific work.
Building a coral spawning lab
Seizing the opportunity to focus on the growing threat of changing sea chemistry, Albright began studying coral reproduction and the ability of coral populations to recover from damage. She created one of the world’s only coral culturing labs—all within Academy walls. Because corals respond to a “very sophisticated hierarchy of environmental cues,” it’s a challenge to trigger biological responses—and therefore breed corals—in a controlled environment so far from warm, wild reefs.
“In many organisms, reproduction is linked to the lunar cycle,” explains Albright. “If you want to recreate those conditions in the lab, you have to take wild-collected coral and simulate lunar phases, a full moon, a new moon, and seasonal cycles in the correct temperature. My hope is that if we can understand how to facilitate reproduction in the lab, we can use that knowledge to leverage restoration efforts in the natural environment.”
This spring, Albright’s lab celebrated its second-annual spawning event with stunning progress: fertilization resulted in more than 100,000 baby Acropora hyacinthus larvae, 1,000 of which “settled” into growing corals that just marked their one-month birthday. Research collaborators are interested in this powerful scientific resource for projects involving 3D-printed reef restoration, new coral genomes, and a wide variety of research focused on understanding and protecting the reefs of the future. Albright’s team hopes to add a second facility for extra reproductive events in the coming years.
The Patterson vision
Before his passing on September 24, 2010, Patterson spoke with Academy staff about his vision for an Academy that combines active science and education more effectively than any comparable institution in the world. The Patterson Scholars in Science and Sustainability help bring this vision to life. Like Drs. Rebecca Albright, Shannon Bennett, Scott Loarie, and inaugural Scholar Dr. Brian Fisher, future Patterson Scholars will be scientist-educators of exceptional talent, achievement, and productivity who are committed to exploring the natural world, the challenge of sustainability, and science education through public engagement.
Live near San Francisco? Hear more from Albright as she dives into the state of global coral reefs, the strengths and limitations of modern science interventions, and next steps towards saving these invaluable ecosystems. Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 7 pm in the Academy’s African Hall. Free tickets require an RSVP here.
The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of efforts to understand two of the most important topics of our time: the nature and sustainability of life on Earth. Based in San Francisco, the Institute is home to more than 100 world-class scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, and nearly 46 million scientific specimens from around the world. The Institute also leverages the expertise and efforts of more than 100 international Associates and 450 distinguished Fellows. Through expeditions around the globe, investigations in the lab, and analyses of vast biological datasets, the Institute’s scientists work to understand the evolution and interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the threats they face around the world, and the most effective strategies for sustaining them into the future. Through innovative partnerships and public engagement initiatives, they also guide critical sustainability and conservation decisions worldwide, inspire and mentor the next generation of scientists, and foster responsible stewardship of our planet.
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