A "Royal" recognition for Dal scientists

New Royal Society fellows John Cullen and Andrew Roger

- September 24, 2012

John Cullen and Andrew Roger. (Nick Pearce photo)
John Cullen and Andrew Roger. (Nick Pearce photo)

It’s a most regal honour for an academic.

On November 17, Oceanography Professor John Cullen and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Professor Andrew Roger will become fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). Induction into the RSC represents a distinguished career in research — the cumulative accomplishments of an academic life. Fellows are considered top intellectuals, persons who provide thought leadership for the betterment of Canada and the world.

The road to fellowship

This honour comes for Dr. Cullen after years of presenting solid research on significant global challenges. Just one example is his work on human-caused stratospheric ozone depletion, a hot-button issue in the 1980s and 90s. Although at the time scientists knew increased ultraviolet radiation from ozone depletion would harm marine organisms, they didn’t know by how much.

“I worked with Dr. Patrick Neale at the Smithsonian Institute and Richard Davis in my lab to develop new ways to measure the effects of ultraviolet radiation on photosynthetic plankton,” explains Dr. Cullen. “We discovered that UV radiation would cause significant but not catastrophic impacts and in doing so we developed a sound scientific foundation for making those assessments.”

Dr. Roger has spent much of his career piecing together the Tree of Life. His group has shown that much of life’s diversity comprises five-to-six super-kingdom level groups that diversified more than 1 billion years ago. In collaboration with Alastair Simpson's Biology group, Roger’s team assembled the first evidence for a large “super-kingdom” group called the Excavata.

“Clarifying the deepest 'structure' of the Tree of Life is realizing many biologists’ dreams since Darwin proposed the theory of evolution,” says Dr. Roger. “We can now map major evolutionary transitions that gave rise to diversity and better understand mechanisms that control evolution.”

A dedication to truth

Drs. Cullen and Roger agree that their success stems from an unwavering dedication to uncovering the truth.

Dr. Cullen emphasizes reporting results honestly and clearly, reiterating, “A scientist’s job is to help people understand nature, not to impress people with accomplishments.”

Dr. Roger draws on collaborations with other academics, postdoctoral researchers and students to find the truth behind life’s mysteries. He credits much of his success to seeking out academics with complementary skills and getting the right trainees for his projects.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with excellent colleagues and trainees,” says Dr. Roger. “I’ve also strived to create a comfortable intellectual environment and provide the financial support and guidance for my trainees to explore their scientific interests.”

The soon-to-be fellows are eager to begin their roles in an organization they respect and admire.  

“It is encouraging that institutions like the RSC reward excellence in basic and applied science and understand their longer term value to humanity,” says Dr. Roger.

“This is a way for academics to give something back for the support they’ve received from the public over their careers,” says Dr. Cullen. “For example, scientists in the RSC can provide sound advice to guide public policy.”

After Drs. Cullen and Roger are inducted into the RSC, Dalhousie will have a total of 36 fellows.

"For the second year in a row Dalhousie has two new members in the Royal Society of Canada,” says VP of Research Martha Crago. “This indicates our strength as a community of excellent scholars and scientists. The research achievements of Drs. Cullen and Rogers reflect that strength."


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