The government of Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain, has announced that Sallie (Penny) Chisholm has been selected to receive this year’s Ramon Margalef Prize in Ecology. The prize, named for a distinguished Catalonian scientist and founding father of modern ecology, is one of the most prestigious scientific awards dedicated exclusively to ecological and environmental sciences.
Chisholm, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Biology, will receive the $100,000 prize from Artur Mas, president of Catalonia, at a ceremony in Barcelona in October. In February of this year, President Barack Obama awarded Chisholm the National Medal of Science, the United States’ highest honor in science and engineering.
Chisholm is best known for her research on the ocean phytoplankton Prochlorococcus — the world’s smallest and most abundant photosynthetic organism. She led the team that discovered it in 1988, and, using it as a model system in her lab, has focused her research on how marine microbes co-evolve with and shape the chemical composition of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere.
In the announcement, the Catalonian government called Chisholm “one of the most productive and charismatic researchers in biological oceanography and marine ecology” and praised her role in the discovery and understanding of photosynthetic organisms, crediting her with the launch of a “new and revolutionary” way of studying ocean life. The announcement also praised Chisholm for denouncing ocean iron fertilization, a method that had been proposed as a way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Research has shown that the practice would significantly alter marine food webs and the oceans’ biogeochemical cycles with unknown, unintended consequences.
Chisholm was born in Marquette, Mich. She has a Ph.D. in marine biology from the State University of New York at Albany, did postdoctoral research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and joined the MIT faculty in 1976. In addition to her appointments at MIT, she also is affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.