Inspiring the next generation of oceanographers
13th annual Gordon Riley Memorial Lecture
CarolAnne Black - April 10, 2012
As an oceanography student at Dal in the early 1980s, Peter Franks learned a little bit of everything.
"The thing that really got me to where I am now is the appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of oceanography – that to be a good biological oceanographer it really helped to be a good biologist, a good physicist, a good chemist," he says.
On March 28, Dr. Franks, who is now a professor of phytoplankton ecology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, returned to his alma mater as the first alumnus to deliver the Gordon Riley Memorial Lecture. He completed his masters degree at Dal in 1984.
Dr. Franks attributes his mode of thinking to Dalhousie. The Department of Oceanography, since its founding in 1971 when Gordon Riley became its first chair, has always encouraged researchers and students to think broadly and independently. It is in Dr. Riley's honour that every year oceanography students bring a leading scientist to Dalhousie for the lecture.
Dr. Franks talked the future of biological oceanography; he sees the field expanding through collaboration between researchers with different areas of expertise. Dr. Franks envisions biological oceanographers, engineers, physical oceanographers, chemical oceanographers, and microbiologists, all working together.
For further-reaching collaborations, Dr. Franks encouraged the audience to pursue research topics involving the use of modified small-scale medical devices equipped to handle ocean conditions. He pointed out that devices used on humans to track variables such as salinity of the blood can measure the same variables that oceanographers look for in watery depths around the globe.
"It was Dalhousie that got me on the road to being an oceanographer," says Dr. Franks. "If I had not done my masters here I would definitely not have the job at Scripps that I have now. I got such a great grounding in oceanography."