Washington, D.C.—Global Ecology NSF Fellow Mary Whelan has been honored with Carnegie’s fifth Postdoctoral Innovation and Excellence (PIE) Award. These prizes are made through nominations from the department directors and are chosen by the Office of the President. Whelan was awarded the prize for both her scientific and cultural contributions to the Carnegie community.
Whelan’s work on atmospheric trace gas biogeochemistry shows an enormous breadth of skills, knowledge, and curiosity. She asks both “how do we measure it?” and “what does it tell us about the world?”—two scientific questions that are increasingly “siloed” in the environmental sciences. She spends hours of fastidious work on innovative techniques and technology development to measure carbonyl sulfide—which plants consume with carbon dioxide and which can be used to quantify gas flow into plants during photosynthesis. She applies these techniques in the field and her work has resulted in insights that are not just novel but have not been possible before.
In addition to trying new approaches to her research, she shows an extraordinary knack for collaboration, blending lab work, fieldwork, and modeling that spans multiple domains that most early career scientists can only partly master.
Whelan is a particularly positive and enriching influence on every community she has joined. Throughout her career she has been extremely involved in mentoring. During her Ph. D. work she trained a dozen undergraduate research assistants in laboratory-based and field-based gas analyses. She was also very involved in college educational outreach, including as an in-class specialist for an environmental sciences class, with students of Berkeley High School. Collaborating with the Lawrence Hall of Science, she helped develop a course to train undergraduate and graduate students how to communicate climate change science to non-expert audiences, now being taught at several universities nationally. To build community among her colleagues, she founded and facilitates an international collaborative network of researchers who use carbonyl sulfide in their work (cosanova.org).
At Carnegie, Whelan has been especially intuitive in assuring that grant and project collaborations go smoothly through her good-natured inclusivity, grace, and humor. She also spearheads many of the extracurricular social activities that have made Global Ecology so much fun—from lab outings at the AGU to Carnegie Cook-Offs. Even in her busiest hour, Whelan always finds time to help the group.
Carnegie president Matthew Scott remarked, “Choosing the PIE award recipients is difficult, with so many talented postdocs at the institution. Mary Whelan’s revealing studies of photosynthesis are central both to global ecological measurements and to understanding plant physiology. Her science, together with her exceptional dedication to mentoring and community leadership, makes her a person we are delighted to celebrate with this PIE award.”