WASHINGTON (May 15, 2013)—A roboticist, an astrobiologist, a glaciologist, a planetary geologist, an entrepreneur and an artist are among the 17 visionary, young trailblazers from around the world who have been selected as this year’s National Geographic Emerging Explorers.
National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists and innovators who are at the forefront of discovery, adventure and global problem-solving while still early in their careers. Each Emerging Explorer receives a $10,000 award to assist with research and to aid further exploration.
The 2013 Emerging Explorers are conservation biologist Steve Boyes, conservation biologist Erika Cuéllar, anthropologist Jason De León, planetary geologist Bethany Ehlmann, archaeologist Sayed Gul Kalash, computer scientist and roboticist Chad Jenkins, wildlife filmmaker and photographer Sandesh Kadur, artist Raghava KK, humanitarian Lale Labuko, innovator and entrepreneur Tan Le, conservation biologist Andrea Marshall, science educator and astrobiologist Brendan Mullan, geophysicist and glaciologist Erin Pettit, computational geneticist Pardis Sabeti, engineer and conservation technologist Shah Selbe, data artist Jer Thorp and adventurer and conservationist Gregg Treinish.
The new Emerging Explorers are introduced in the June 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine, and comprehensive profiles can be found at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/emerging.
National Geographic Emerging Explorers may be selected from virtually any field, ranging from the Society’s traditional arenas of anthropology, archaeology, photography, space exploration, earth sciences, mountaineering and cartography to the worlds of technology, art, music and filmmaking.
“As National Geographic celebrates its 125th anniversary year and looks forward to embracing a new age of exploration, we look to our Emerging Explorers to be leaders in pushing the boundaries of discovery and innovation. They represent tomorrow’s Robert Ballards, Jacques Cousteaus and Jane Goodalls,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president for Mission Programs.
South African conservation biologist Steve Boyes is scientific director of the Wild Bird Trust. With a passion for the wilderness and parrot conservation, he works to preserve and protect Botswana’s uniquely pristine Okavango Delta, to mitigate threats bringing parrot species to the brink of extinction throughout Africa and to plant thousands of trees in his forest restoration projects. A postdoctoral fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, his research is on the critically endangered Cape parrot, with a focus on better understanding the dynamics that caused an outbreak of the deadly Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease in Cape parrots in the wild. His work has also resulted in a moratorium on the importation of African Grey parrots into South Africa. His most ambitious undertaking is planting the first million trees and mounting hundreds of nest boxes for Cape parrots in the forests they depend on.
Bolivian conservation biologist Erika Cuéllar is empowering local people in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina to be hands-on conservation stewards. She trains them to be parabiologists, with the aim of protecting the extraordinary biodiversity of one of South America’s last truly wild environments, the Gran Chaco region. Graduates of her program bring their professional skills into the forests, wetlands and grasslands. They make census reports of birds and animals, deploy and analyze data from camera traps and radio-tracking devices, create maps calculating species’ densities and monitor changes in wildlife numbers. Their first-aid training saves people’s lives, too. Cuéllar co-coordinates the Bolivian Committee for the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN. She has helped outlaw hunting of the guanaco (wild ancestor of the llama) and is experimenting with ways to recover its grassland habitat, currently overrun by free-range cattle and invasive plants.
U.S. anthropologist Jason De León, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, directs the Undocumented Migration Project, an ethnographic, archaeological and forensic study of clandestine migration between Mexico and the United States. By using multiple anthropological approaches, including documenting what migrants leave behind in the desert, he seeks to provide insight into their experiences, including how people survive and what happens to those who do not make it. Since 2009, his project has collected, catalogued and interpreted nearly 10,000 objects left by migrants making the treacherous Mexico-U.S. crossing — from survival-based items like water bottles and food wrappers to personal belongings like letters, photos, bibles and rosaries. He sees the materials as fragments of history and believes that studying and exhibiting them can highlight the complexities of the migrant experience. Part of the collection was displayed recently in the University of Michigan exhibition “State of Exception” and will eventually travel across the country.
U.S. planetary geologist Bethany Ehlmann is an assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a participating scientist on the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission. From a control room in Pasadena, Calif., she helps direct the rover and, by zapping Martian rocks with the ChemCam laser spectrometer aboard Curiosity, she analyzes the minerals and geochemistry of the rocks for clues about the planet’s ancient environment. “Studying the first billion years of Mars’ history helps answer questions about how Earth evolved to sustain and maintain environments good for life,” she says. In turn, exploring remote corners on Earth can help inform how to best tackle exploration on Mars. She travels to some extreme spots — from the volcanoes of Iceland to the deserts of California and Oman — to find geologic features and environmental conditions that most closely resemble the surfaces of distant planets.
Pakistani archaeologist Sayed Gul Kalash strives to preserve one of the world’s oldest and most unique cultures and languages — her own critically endangered Kalash — still surviving in the remote Kalash valley of Pakistan’s Hindu Kush mountain range. She is the first Kalash archaeologist and the only Kalash woman to be trained as a scientist. She runs a small museum in the Kalash valley and is committed to documenting and maintaining her 3,000-year-old heritage. The Kalash language has no written script and is on the verge of extinction. Gul Kalash works to preserve it by documenting local legends and lore in written form for the first time. The Kalash practice their own polytheistic/animist religion and face increasing pressure to convert to Islam and abandon their traditions. This tiny indigenous community numbers about 3,500.
U.S. computer scientist and roboticist Chad Jenkins, associate professor of computer science at Brown University, leads a research group that explores topics related to human-robot interaction and robot learning, with a specific focus on robots learning from human demonstration. Using this approach, the group has trained robots to accomplish tasks such as navigating a basic maze and cleaning a messy room. The greater the number and variety of demonstrations a robot sees, the better it masters the task. Jenkins uses crowdsourcing to expose robots to a wealth of demonstrations. Over the past few years, hundreds of people have participated in training his lab’s robots by logging on to the group’s website and controlling robots to improve at block-stacking, soccer and household chores. Jenkins, currently on sabbatical at the robotics company Willow Garage, predicts widespread use of robots will change society in the near future similar to how personal computing has over the last 30 years.
Indian wildlife filmmaker and photographer Sandesh Kadur creates award-winning documentary films and photography books to raise awareness about the world’s threatened species and habitats in order to inspire his audience to help protect them. His work spans cloud forests and endangered sea turtles in Mexico, rain forests and king cobras in India, the breeding cycle of threatened birds in Indonesia and orphaned clouded leopards being rehabilitated back to the Himalayan jungle. Often his work provides a first-ever glimpse of certain animal behaviors in the wild. He caught the 12-foot-long stars of his king cobra documentary courting, fighting, mating and nest building — action rarely ever witnessed in the wild. The locations he explores, often for months at a time, can be the only corners of the world where particular species exist. His film and book of photographs on the Western Ghats were part of the submission that helped persuade UNESCO to name the Western Ghats a World Heritage site.
Indian artist Raghava KK blends creativity and technology to develop interactive art that considers issues from multiple perspectives, challenging perceptions, opening minds, inspiring tolerance and engendering empathy. His work spans genres as disparate as painting, sculpture, film and performance. His most recent series of interactive artwork is focused on radically shifting the role of the viewer from mere spectator/buyer to that of an active participant and co-creator. Science and technology play a pivotal role in his art, allowing multiple perspectives to be revealed and manipulated by the viewer (through touch, brainwave data, facial expressions, etc.), essentially becoming a new creation each time it is experienced. His award-winning iPad picture book for children created a new genre of “shaken stories.” Each time the screen is shaken, a new perspective on the concept is revealed. In the case of “Pop-it,” the ideal “family” is shaken to reveal two dads, two moms, or mom and dad. KK is helping develop new technologies, embedded in his art, that change the role of spectator and invite them to bias the artwork through active physical participation.
Ethiopian humanitarian Lale Labuko fights to stop the ritualistic killing of infants and children in Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley and provides shelter, care and education for the children he rescues. At age 15 he heard the word “mingi” for the first time after he saw a 2-year-old torn from her mother and never seen again. Ancient belief says children who are deemed mingi will bring drought, famine and disease to the tribe if allowed to live. Ritualistic killing is seen as the only solution. Labuko was one of the first in his tribe to receive a formal education, and the perspective he gained from this fueled his resolve to save mingi children and abolish the practice. Ultimately he worked with Ethiopia’s government and raised funds from international donors to begin Omo Child, a nonprofit humanitarian organization and children’s home. Today, 37 mingi babies and children rescued by Labuko live in the home, many saved just moments before certain death. As a result of his impassioned advocacy efforts with tribal elders, Labuko’s greatest accomplishment came in July 2012 when his tribe, the Kara, officially banned mingi.
Vietnamese/Australian innovator and entrepreneur Tan Le is working to transform brain research. She creates innovations that expand and improve the way our brains are studied and understood. Her ideas may help detect brain problems earlier, enable better learning and accelerate research to unlock new treatments for neurological disorders. Le co-founded Emotiv Lifesciences, a company pioneering first-of-its kind portable electroencephalography (EEG) technology, a new brain-computer interface and a platform for sharing crucial brain data globally. Large-scale participation in collecting and sharing brain data is now possible through Le’s EEG’s headset that records brain activity. Researchers send experiments out over the Internet, and participants complete designated tasks while wearing the headset, which has sensors that pick up the brain’s electric signals; it can already detect the wearer’s thoughts, feelings and expressions.
U.S. conservation biologist Andrea Marshall leads groundbreaking research and conservation programs to save globally threatened manta rays and other vulnerable marine megafauna and their critical habitats. She became the first person to complete a Ph.D. on manta rays; the first to discover a second manta species; and the first to create a global database that can revolutionize the future of manta ray research. The Marine Megafauna Foundation she co-founded conducts world-leading research from Mozambique’s remote southern coastline, home to one of the largest identified manta populations. Her work and global lobbying have been crucial in convincing governments and conservation organizations to legislate protection and create marine reserves. In 2013, her efforts helped make history — inclusion of manta rays in CITES, an intergovernmental agreement that will help protect the species internationally.
U.S science educator and astrobiologist Brendan Mullan explores innovative ways to communicate astronomy to the public and inspire a new generation of scientists. He is a Ph.D. graduate from Penn State, where he teaches and develops curriculum for astronomy courses. In 2012, Mullan won the prestigious U.S. FameLab competition that encourages scientists to communicate their work to society as a whole in more effective and universally understandable ways. He believes scientists need to engage with the public and bring astronomy and astrobiology out of the ivory tower to make it more accessible and entertaining. His research involves studying how stars form in the interstellar wreckage of colliding galaxies. Another project sends him hunting for alien civilizations, testing an idea that advanced beings might efficiently harness the energy of distant suns for power, causing their home galaxy to appear dim in optical light but shine brightly in infrared.
U.S. geophysicist and glaciologist Erin Pettit explores glaciers to better understand and predict changing climate and rising seas. She is an assistant professor of geophysics and glaciology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Pettit employs acoustic research, using underwater listening instruments to listen to glaciers. As she translates their language, she’ll tell the rest of us what they’re saying about sea level rise and climate change, and how critical processes like ocean circulation may be transformed. Other fieldwork finds her in minus 20° weather researching how ice sheets have grown and shrunk over hundreds of thousands of years by examining ice core samples that have been drilled and removed. She is also creator of “Girls on Ice,” a wilderness science experience for high school girls, who each summer enter glacial landscapes to perform experiments exploring everything from how ice worms move to how alpine vegetation grows.
Iranian/U.S. computational geneticist Pardis Sabeti uses medical and evolutionary genetics to better understand the origins of our acquired traits as well as to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. At Harvard University she is an associate professor at the Center for Systems Biology and senior associate member of the Broad Institute. Algorithms that she invents and wields are helping crack genetic codes of how infectious diseases such as malaria adapt, spread and may one day be prevented. In 2001, she developed a breakthrough algorithm that allows geneticists to scan for genes that reveal natural selection at work. Tracing the genetics behind natural selection is crucial to unraveling when and how certain mutations increase humanity’s odds of survival.
U.S. engineer and conservation technologist Shah Selbe identifies innovative technologies that can be used to protect the world’s seas from illegal fishing through better monitoring, tracking, collaboration and surveillance. He created FishNET, a project focused on harnessing technology to detect and track illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing worldwide. These various inexpensive technologies tackle the problem on three levels: collecting, sharing and managing information. Selbe is a satellite propulsion systems engineer at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems and the Southern California region representative of Engineers Without Borders. Through Engineers Without Borders, he has built homes in Mexico, solar energy projects in Mali, water distribution systems in Malawi and a rainwater catchment system in Tanzania.
Canadian data artist Jer Thorp translates complex data sets into novel representations that make information more digestible, understandable and meaningful. He translates unimaginable blurs of information — such as what 3 million lightning strikes look like, or the connections and relationships between the 2,982 people killed on 9/11— into something we can see, understand and feel. His data visualizations blend research, art, software, science and design to create a human perspective. His award-winning, software-based work has been exhibited on four continents. He co-founded the Office for Creative Research as a resource for cultural institutions, scientists and organizations facing data challenges as they tackle big problems to effect positive change. Thorp teaches data representation at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.
U.S. adventurer and conservationist Gregg Treinish founded Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), a nonprofit organization connecting outdoor adventurers with research scientists in need of data from the field. Adventure athletes contact the organization and volunteer to collect data on their travels. ASC matches them with researchers who need help getting expensive, time-consuming, hard-to-reach information that will be used to make more informed conservation-minded management decisions. More than 100 scientific organizations and 1,000 adventurers have already participated. Treinish also organizes his own expeditions, contributing to research on wildlife-human interaction, fragmented habitats and threatened species. He recently completed a trip to Mongolia to survey the wildlife of that region, gathering data on wolverines and 20 other species. Treinish was a 2008 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.
National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers are part of the Society’s Explorer Programs, which include Explorers-in-Residence and National Geographic Fellows.
About National Geographic
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Its mission is to inspire people to care about the planet. Founded in 1888, the Society is member supported and offers a community for members to get closer to explorers, connect with other members and help make a difference. The Society reaches more than 450 million people worldwide each month through National Geographic and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit www.nationalgeographic.com.
NOTE: For fuller bios of the 2013 Emerging Explorers, go to http://www.nationalgeographic.com/emerging.
For images of the Emerging Explorers, contact Carol King Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the ftp site http://press.nationalgeographic.com/downloads/ee_2013 (username: press / password: press).