Date:  June 22, 2015


NAS Gulf Research Program Announces First Early-Career Research and Science Policy Fellowships


WASHINGTON – The NAS Gulf Research Program announced today the recipients of its Gulf Research Program Early-Career Research Fellowships and Science Policy Fellowships for 2015.  These competitive awards are among the initial suite of activities in the program’s 30-year mission to enhance oil system safety and the protection of human health and the environment in the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. outer continental shelf regions.


“The Gulf Research Program is committed to the development of future leaders who will provide the scientific foundation for understanding and protecting the region’s ecosystem while allowing for the safe development of its resources,” said Tom Hunter, chair of the Gulf Research Program advisory board. “We had an impressive set of applicants for this year’s awards, and the members of this first class are just outstanding.”


The Early-Career Research Fellowships recognize professionals at the critical pre-tenure phase of their careers for exceptional leadership, past performance, and potential for future contributions to improving oil system safety, human health, or the environment in the Gulf region.  To foster leadership development, fellows will receive professional guidance from two mentors: a senior faculty member at their home institution and a senior expert in their field, to be appointed at a later date.  Each fellow will receive $76,000, in the form of a two-year grant paid to the fellow’s institution, for research expenses and professional development.


Science Policy Fellowships, focused on leadership development and capacity building at the science-policy interface, are awarded to graduate or professional students or those who have completed their studies within the past five years and demonstrate a strong scientific or technical background, superior academic achievement, and leadership qualities.  This year’s fellows will spend one year on the staff of a state environmental agency and regional offices of relevant federal agencies in the Gulf region.  Fellows will be paired with a mentor when they arrive at their host offices. They will also have opportunities for professional development.  Fellows will receive an annual stipend of $45,000 for current students or $55,000 for graduates.


“Both fellowships emphasize mentoring,” said Gulf Research Program fellowships manager Maggie Walser, “which we believe is an important part of building leadership capacity in young scientists.”


The $500 million Gulf Research Program was established by agreements arising from the settlement of the U.S. government’s criminal complaints following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, and seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas, and foster application of these insights to benefit Gulf communities, ecosystems, and the nation. The Gulf Research Program will fund studies, projects, and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.


In alphabetical order, the recipients of the Early-Career Research Fellowships are:


Julie Albert, Ph.D.; Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Tulane University, New Orleans

Mentor: Vijay John

The Albert group is interested in developing nano- and micro-structured polymeric materials for research applications related to present-day challenges in energy, health, and the environment.  The group creates materials that may become nanotemplates for electronic materials, tailorable microenvironments for cell culture, or nanoporous membranes for filtration.


Alberto Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., C.P.H., Public Health Sciences, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami

Mentor: David Lee

Dr. Caban-Martinez’s interdisciplinary program of research aims to conduct robust occupational and environmental health surveillance activities and provide rigorous scientific evidence about effective ways to reduce musculoskeletal disorders and improve the well-being of worker populations.  He focuses on finding ways to promote safe work practices, healthy behaviors, and healthy work environments. He is especially concerned about redressing disparities in musculoskeletal disorder risk, whether by race/ethnicity, gender, or occupation.


Michael Zachary Darnell, Ph.D., Biological Sciences, Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, La.

Mentor: Earl Melancon

Dr. Darnell’s long-term research interests are centered on the environmental constraints imposed upon marine and estuarine invertebrate species. Specifically, his research focuses on (1) physiological and behavioral responses to environmental change and environmental stress; (2) environmental effects on life histories, distributions, and population dynamics; and (3) anthropogenic impacts on organism-environment interactions.


Kelly Dorgan, Ph.D., Marine Sciences, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Mentor: Ron Kiene

Dr. Dorgan’s research program aims to develop a mechanistic understanding of the ecological and biogeochemical processes occurring in marine sediments. She is specifically interested in animal-sediment interactions, including the mechanics of burrowing and feeding and the impacts of these activities on the physical structure of sediments.


F. Joel Fodrie, Ph.D., Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Mentor: Charles Peterson

Dr. Fodrie’s research focuses on four major themes: 1) how the movement of fishes connects landscapes and affects population dynamics; 2) linkages between coastal habitat abundance/quality and fishery production; 3) biogenic habitat restoration; and 4) how basin-scale perturbations such as harvest pressure, climate change, and oil pollution influence the long-term community ecology of coastal ecosystems.


Anna Michel, Ph.D., Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.

Mentor: Andone Lavery

Dr. Michel’s research focus is on advancing environmental observation through the development and deployment of novel optical sensors for measurement of key chemical species. She designs, builds, and deploys advanced laser-based chemical sensors that are capable of measuring trace concentrations in gaseous and aqueous environments in locations ranging from the deep sea to Arctic environments, using remotely operated vehicles.  New sensors are critical for addressing ocean science questions in such areas as climate change chemistry and ocean acidification, for examining remediation efforts, for establishing baseline chemistry data, and for monitoring anthropogenic and natural changes in complex and often extreme locations. 


Davin Wallace, Ph.D., Marine Science, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg

Mentor: Alan Shiller

The aim of Dr. Wallace’s research is to establish the response of coastal systems to global change over historic and geologic timescales. Specifically, Dr. Wallace is primarily a field geologist interested in understanding how variations in hurricanes, sediment supply, and relative sea level shape and impact the coastlines of the world.


Helen White, Ph.D., Chemistry, Haverford College, Haverford, Pa.

Mentor: Rob Fairman

Dr. White’s research examines the persistence of oil and other organic contaminants in the marine environment. Her work seeks to examine how the chemical structure, physical associations, and bioavailability of specific compounds determine their cycling and eventual fate. Dr. White is particularly interested in the long-term fate of organic contaminants in both coastal and offshore environments, and how the presence of these compounds affects ecosystem services and human health.


The recipients of the Science Policy Fellowships are:


Diana Del Angel, M.S., Environmental Science, 2011, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi

Host Office: Florida Department of Environmental Protection


Elizabeth Gomez, M.S., Marine and Atmospheric Science, 2015, Stony Brook University

Host Office: NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program


Jessica Henkel, Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2015, Tulane University

Host Office: RESTORE Council


Cholena Ren, Doctoral Candidate, Chemistry, Louisiana State University

Host Office: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Gulf of Mexico Office


To learn more about these fellowships and other opportunities at the Gulf Research Program, please visit


The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit



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