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Nancy Knowlton


Dr. Nancy Knowlton holds the Sant Chair in Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC and is senior scientist emerita at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. She has also been on the faculties of Yale University and the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she was the founding director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. She is a winner of the Peter Benchley Prize, the Heinz Award, and the Secretary of the Smithsonian’s Distinguished Scholar Award. In 2013 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Knowlton’s research centers on the diversity and conservation of life in the ocean. Her work has taken her across the tropics, from the Caribbean to the Cape Verde Islands, and from the Red Sea to the remote reefs of the Central Pacific. Her over 130 papers address fundamental issues related cryptic species, molecular evolution, symbiosis, family trees, coral bleaching, and coral reef collapse. Her current research uses state-of-the-art genetic methods combined with globally standardized sampling to explore the hidden diversity that has been ignored by traditional approaches, a key component of the Smithsonian’s MarineGeo program.

Dr. Knowlton is also committed to bringing science to the public. She is the author of National Geographic’s best-selling 2010 book Citizens of the Sea, serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal website, and contributes regularly to the global ocean conversation via @seacitizens. In 2014, she helped launch the social media campaign #OceanOptimism, which has now reached over 76 million twitter accounts. The success of this effort to highlight good news in ocean conservation provided the spark for the Smithsonian Conservation Commons’ Earth Optimism Summit occurring on Earth Day weekend 2017 in DC and around the world.

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