09/30/2011 07:00:00

Caltech Geobiologist Receives Presidential Early Career Award

PASADENA, Calif.—Victoria Orphan, professor of geobiology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), is one of 94 winners of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

Orphan, one of 13 Department of Energy (DOE) researchers in the 2011 class, was commended for "developing new techniques to study interactions between microbes, relevant for understanding the role of methane in the biosphere, which is of urgent importance for addressing the global carbon cycle and climate change; and for emerging leadership in the microbiology research community," according to the DOE.

"It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers—careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the nation," said President Obama in a statement issued September 26, announcing the awards.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

"I am deeply honored to have been selected as a PECASE awardee and grateful for the support by DOE's Biological and Environmental Research program," says Orphan, whose work spans the fields of environmental microbiology, ecology, and biogeochemistry, focusing primarily on the microbial cycling of methane. Her research—much of which is done using both manned and robotic submersibles to study areas of methane release in the deep sea—attempts to elucidate the metabolic links between microorganisms and their resulting impact on the cycling of carbon and nutrients in the environment.

Orphan received her PhD in biology in 2001 from UC Santa Barbara and was a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center before joining the Division of Geological and Planetary Science in 2004.

Written by Kathy Svitil