WASHINGTON (Feb. 3, 2009)—Ten visionary, young trailblazers from around the world — including an epidemiologist, an aquatic ecologist, a geo-archaeologist, an ethnobotanist and an urban planner — have been named to the 2009 class of National Geographic Emerging Explorers.
National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists, photographers and storytellers making a significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration while still early in their careers. The Emerging Explorers each receive a $10,000 award to assist with research and to aid further exploration. PNY Technologies is a presenting sponsor of the Emerging Explorers Program and a National Geographic Mission Partner for Exploration & Adventure. The program is made possible in part by the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, which has supported the program since its inception in 2004.
The 2009 Emerging Explorers are urban planner Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane, currently a UCLA Ph.D. student living between Essen, Germany, and Cairo, Egypt; ethnobotanist Grace Gobbo of Tanzania; geo-archaeologist Beverly Goodman, currently of Hebrew University of Jerusalem; zoologist Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History; conservationist Shafqat Hussain of Pakistan; wildlife biologist and conservationist Malik Marjan of Sudan, currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; behavioral ecologist Katsufumi Sato of the University of Tokyo, Japan; aquatic ecologist and biogeochemist Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; cultural anthropologist and media ecologist Michael Wesch of Kansas State University; and epidemiologist Nathan Wolfe of Stanford University.
The new Emerging Explorers are introduced in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine. A Web feature at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/emerging includes comprehensive profiles of the explorers and their activities.
National Geographic Emerging Explorers may be selected from virtually any field, from the Society’s traditional arenas of anthropology, archaeology, photography, space exploration, earth sciences, mountaineering and cartography to the worlds of art, music and filmmaking.
“National Geographic’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet, and our Emerging Explorers are outstanding young leaders whose endeavors further this mission. We are pleased to support them as they set out on promising careers. They represent tomorrow’s Edmund Hillarys, Jacques Cousteaus and Dian Fosseys,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president for Mission Programs.
Thomas Culhane is an urban planner whose Egyptian nongovernmental organization Solar CITIES trains residents in Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods how to build and install rooftop solar water heaters and other renewable energy, water and waste management systems. More than 30 solar tanks now dot the rooftops of Coptic Christian and Islamic neighborhoods. “I divide my time between the two to bring them together,” Culhane says. He began his career, after graduating from Harvard in biological anthropology and spending a year doing rain forest research in Borneo, working as a science writer. He also taught science in inner-city Los Angeles schools and did workshops across the United States, sharing his methods for “bringing the science textbook to life.” He taught similar workshops at the American University in Cairo and the Wadi Environmental Science Center. Culhane currently lives in Essen, Germany, where he is completing his Ph.D. for UCLA, but he spends part of the year in Cairo and in California, working on renewable energy multimedia projects and traveling to developing countries to learn appropriate emerging technologies that can be adapted to Egyptian informal communities.
Grace Gobbo is a Tanzanian ethnobotanist with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Greater Gombe Ecosystem Program. Her specific interest is in medicinal plants and traditional healing practices. For centuries, medicinal plants used by traditional healers have been at the heart of health care in Tanzania, where expensive imported pharmaceuticals are unaffordable for most of the population. But today, the rain forest landscape where many of the plants are found and indigenous medical knowledge are disappearing. Gobbo hopes her efforts to preserve natural remedies and native habitat will help reverse this trend. She has interviewed more than 80 traditional healers near her hometown of Kigoma, who have shared information on using plants to treat such ailments as skin and chest infections, stomach ulcers, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and even cancer. Gobbo has recorded the information, with notes and photographs of the plants and their uses, into a computer database. She also hopes to create a cultural center and reintroduce and re-energize Tanzanian youth about indigenous culture, crafts and knowledge such as traditional healing.
Beverly Goodman is a geo-archaeologist from the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who studies sediment cores from underwater archaeological sites, using clues from ancient tsunami events to help predict and avert future coastal disasters. She blends skills from archaeology, geology and anthropology to explore the complex ways nature and humans interact on coastlines. The physical evidence she and her team of research divers collect and analyze helps reveal the causes and frequency of tsunamis, and the answers can help forecast and monitor dangerous events along coastlines. Goodman’s fieldwork centers in Caesarea, Israel, where Herod the Great built a massive harbor at the end of the first century B.C. Her team’s findings prove that a tsunami struck the harbor sometime in the first or second century A.D. and likely contributed to its destruction. She plans to perform excavations throughout the Mediterranean, gathering and studying core samples from several offshore archaeological sites, seeking to show a pattern of tsunami activity across the region.
Kristofer Helgen is curator of mammals for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, overseeing the world’s largest collection of mammals. During his fieldwork and his travels around the globe, this zoologist has discovered about 100 species of mammals previously unknown to science; some 25 have been confirmed to date in published scientific papers. Describing this wealth of overlooked biodiversity forms the core of his research program and also helps shape conservation efforts worldwide. His search for new species has plunged him into the wild on almost every continent, but about three times as many new finds are made within the walls of museums. “Collections are built up over centuries,” he says. “It’s virtually impossible to fully interpret that wealth of material. Every day brings surprises.” Among the species Helgen has discovered are marsupials, rodents, bats and the first new species of carnivore from the Americas in several decades.
Shafqat Hussain is an environmentalist who uses an innovative self-funding insurance plan to help local Pakistani economies and the endangered snow leopard survive and thrive together. Snow leopards high on the Himalaya, where the economy relies on herding, attack village goats and sheep. Communities would retaliate by killing the cats, already under huge threat because their pelts are prized in the illegal fur trade. Concern for the local economy and for an extraordinary species in peril led Hussain to create Project Snow Leopard. This low-cost insurance program compensates herders for every animal killed by a snow leopard, stabilizing the economy and deterring the killing of these cats. The system requires herders to pay a small premium for every animal they own and includes strong incentives to prevent cheating. Villagers use surplus funds to build water supply schemes, upgrade schools, construct bridges and make other community improvements. Five thousand people in 10 villages now participate in the ever expanding project, and about 50 snow leopards benefit from the plan’s protection — approximately one-fifth of the entire species left in Pakistan.
Malik Marjan is a Sudanese wildlife biologist and conservationist. When civil war engulfed southern Sudan in 1983, nearly all conservation work ceased. Marjan returned to his country from the U.K. with a master’s degree in conservation biology and joined a team of fewer than 10 people who were involved in wildlife and forestry at the time. They formed the New Sudan Wildlife Conservation Organization in Boma and started fieldwork to count wildlife. Marjan’s initial field data provided critical information about wildlife populations and distribution and the war’s impact. He worked with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay and Paul Elkan, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Southern Sudan Program, to plan and execute the 2007 aerial survey that transformed the world’s view of wildlife in the region. They witnessed staggering amounts of white-eared kob antelope and huge numbers of other antelope believed to be extinct in the area. In all, they confirmed more than 1.2 million antelope and gazelle — a massive and previously unknown migration that could be the largest on Earth. Marjan currently divides his time between fieldwork in Sudan and at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he is a Ph.D. candidate.
Katsufumi Sato is a behavioral ecologist with the University of Tokyo’s Ocean Research Institute, who unravels mysteries of animal behavior in the wild by attaching state-of-the-art data recorders to aquatic wildlife and seabirds and analyzing the surprising results. Electronic animal-borne recorders were introduced in the 1990s, and today animal-borne cameras also record photos and video as well as data. This rapidly changing technology has been tested and improved over the years by Sato, who has worked to perfect the instruments, miniaturize them and find better ways to attach and harness them. The latest instruments give ecologists a bounty of new facts to guide wildlife management and habitat conservation efforts. Sato compares and analyzes information gathered by students in the field. His recent comparison of seabirds, penguins, seals and sperm whales revealed that animals ranging from just 18 ounces to 30 tons all cruise at the same speed. “It seems to show there is an optimal speed and style of swimming for all aquatic animals,” he says. He hopes to expand his comparisons to include all species, searching for links among land, water and airborne animals that may even explain aspects of evolution itself.
Katey Walter, an aquatic ecologist and biogeochemist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks’ Water and Environmental Research Center, studies how the greenhouse gas methane, released from thawing arctic permafrost, can dramatically affect global warming. She estimates that permafrost holds up to 950 billion tons of carbon. As it thaws, 50 billion tons of methane could enter the atmosphere from Siberian lakes alone — 10 times more methane than the atmosphere holds right now. “Since methane traps heat so efficiently, temperatures will rise higher and faster,” she says. Methane also spreads rapidly in the atmosphere, circling the globe in just one year. Walter’s research in Alaska and Siberia explores this dangerous self-perpetuating cycle: thawing permafrost caused by global warming releases methane, which contributes to global warming. Her data feed into scientific models that help predict global warming and ultimately inspire ideas to reduce it. Walter is also looking for ways to harness methane as an alternative energy source for rural arctic villages.
Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist at Kansas State University, who explores the impact of social media and digital technology on society and culture. After two years studying the impact of writing on a remote indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, he has turned his attention to studying the ways new media and Web technology change how we connect and communicate on a personal and global level. He says the power of technology today to change our relationships and culture is unprecedented. The Web allows us to connect with others in ways we have never connected before, and anthropology, which explores connections, can play a key role in understanding it. He believes a culture transformed by digital media may require fundamental revisions in education, and to that end he has introduced a number of non-traditional teaching techniques, most notably his World Simulation, where each student in a class becomes an expert on a specific aspect of a culture, and together they design a complex world. Wesch’s videos on technology, education, and information have been viewed by millions, translated in over 10 languages and featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide.
Nathan Wolfe is an epidemiologist who fights worldwide disease pandemics with an unprecedented early-warning system to forecast, pinpoint and control new plagues before they kill millions. He is the Lorey I. Lokey Visiting Professor in Human Biology at Stanford University and the director of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. His survey of diseases that have historically had the greatest impact on humanity revealed that most started with animals. Based on this, he created a global network of sites in viral hot spots where people are highly exposed to animals and are most at risk for early infection when viruses leap from animals to humans. He and his colleagues work to spot viruses as soon as they surface by collecting and cataloguing blood samples, surveying wild animals, scanning urban blood banks and documenting the transfer and distribution on disease. His data gleaned from a dozen field sites in Cameroon, China, Malaysia and other countries have led to the discovery of several previously unknown retroviruses, notably simian foamy, a primate virus with which hundreds of thousands of people worldwide may be infected.
National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers are part of the Society’s Explorers Program, which includes 13 Explorers-in-Residence and seven National Geographic Fellows.
About National Geographic
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 325 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 9,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program combating geographic illiteracy. For more information, visit nationalgeographic.com.
About PNY Technologies Inc.
Established in 1985, PNY Technologies® Inc. is a leading manufacturer and supplier of memory upgrade modules, high capacity flash memory cards, solid state drives, USB flash drives, as well as consumer and professional workstation graphics cards. The company’s photography, mobility, 3D gaming and business solutions are widely available from major retail, e-tail and wholesale outlets internationally. Headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., PNY maintains facilities in North America (Santa Clara and Orange County, Calif., Miami, Fla., and Parsippany, N.J.), Europe (Benelux, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom,) Asia (Taiwan and China) and Latin America. For more information, visit www.pny.com.
NOTE: Images of the 2009 National Geographic Emerging Explorers are available at the ftp site http://ftp.nationalgeographic.com/pressroom/emerging_explorers_09/.
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