David C. White Research and Mentoring Award - 2010

Dr Kennith Nealson


Dr. Nealson, Wrigley Professor of Geobiology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, is known as one of the founding fathers of geobiology. Nealson's interdisciplinary approach is seen in his work between the geological and microbiological sciences. His geobiology work began in the 1970s with his research on the biochemistry of iron and manganese in freshwater and marine environments. It led to the isolation and characterization of one of the first dissimilatory metal-reducing microbes, Shewanella oneidensis, that has developed into an important model environmental microorganism. A pioneer of the bioluminescence field, Nealson was the first to describe the phenomenon of quorum sensing in luminescent bacteria that were symbionts in various marine organisms. This work encompassed microbial ecology, physiology, biochemistry, and genetics. Clearly the breadth of Nealson's scientific contributions have had tremendous impact in the field of environmental microbiology and this impact has spread to other disciplines including the geological and space sciences, states his nominator, James K. Frederickson, Ph.D., Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington.

Recently, Nealson and colleagues have researched the function of microbial fuel cells, carbon and nitrogen processing in cyanobacteria using nano-SIMS , the genomics of important metal-biotransforming microorganisms, and the mechanisms of -microbial mineral formation and dissolution. They have made exciting discoveries leading to applications, such as removal of toxic metals in water and electricity production. He is a key member of the astrobiology community and trusted NASA advisor. His creative thinking, scientific interests, and dedication to mentoring inspire the scientific community and students alike.