Ken Nealson


Ken Nealson, Wrigley chair in Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth Science and Biological Science, University of Southern California, will speak on "Looking for the Intra-terrestrials – Life in the Deep Subsurface" on Monday, April 15 at 6:30 p.m. in Centennial Auditorium in the School of Engineering.

He will also speak on Tuesday, April 16 at 12:30 p.m. in SUB Ballroom B as part of the New Mexico Research Expo.

After receiving his BS degree in biochemistry (1965), and Ph.D. in microbiology (1969), both from the University of Chicago, Nealson did post-doctoral work at Harvard University for three years. Afterward, he took a position at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (University of California at San Diego), where he remained for 12 years, being promoted to professor of Oceanography.

During this time he studied aspects of marine bio-luminescence, particularly the physiology and ecology of luminous bacteria and the organisms with which they are associated as symbionts. In 1980, utilizing a Guggenheim Fellowship for Sabbatical leave, Nealson shifted his area of work to environmental microbiology and biogeochemistry, with a focus on the interactions between microbes and metals.

In 1985, he took a position as the Shaw Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Great Lakes Studies, where he continued his studies of Geobiology, with a focus on metals and microbes. This work has taken him to oceans, fjords, the Black Sea, the North American Great Lakes and Lake Baikal in Russia.

In 1997, Nealson moved to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he directed the astrobiology group, set up the Center for Life Detection, and was program scientist for the Mars Sample Return Mission. In 2001, he moved to the University of Southern California, where he helped to establish the program in Geobiology, and where he now resides as the Wrigley Professor of Environmental Sciences. Nealson chaired two Task Groups for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one involved with Planetary Contamination and the second with Issues in Sample Return.

Additionally, he is a member of the International Advisory Board for the Japanese Marine Biotechnology Institutes and a member of the scientific advisory board of the Craig Venter Institute. He is currently the co-chair of the Committee on the Origin and Evolution of Life for the National Academy of Sciences and a member of the Space Studies Board of the NAS.

Nealson has been the chair or co-chair of three different Gordon Conferences, has presented more than 10 invited talks at Gordon Conferences, and more than 20 Distinguished Lectures (Plenary or special honorary lectures) in Marine Science at various national and international meetings. He has also published more than 260 papers in reviewed journals, and co-authored two books in environmental microbiology.