Professor Kenneth Nealson
Wrigley Professor of Environmental Sciences
University of Southern California
After receiving his BS degree in biochemistry (1965), and Ph.D. in
microbiology (1969), both from the University of Chicago, Dr. Nealson did
ctoral work at Harvard University for three years. He then took a
position at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Univ. of California at San
Diego), where he remained for 12 years, being promoted to Professor of
Oceanography. During this time he stu
died aspects of marine
bioluminescence, 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, Dr.
Nealson shifted his a
rea 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 S
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, Russia.
In 1997, Nealson moved to the Jet Propulsion La
boratory, 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
Geobiology, and where he now resides as the Wrigley Professor of
Dr. 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.
In addition, 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 an
d Evolution of Life for
the NAS, and a member of the Space Studies Board of the NAS.
Dr. 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 Distingu
ished Lectures (Plenary or special
honorary lectures) in Marine Science at various national and international
has also published more than 26
0 papers in reviewed journals,
authored two books in environmental microbiology.
In 1994 he
was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of
Microbiology, in 1996, he received the Distinguished Visiting Researcher
Award from the Joint Oceanographic Institution (JOI), in 1998, he presented
the Distinguished Leader in Life Sciences lecture at the
tional Academy of
in 1999, he presented the Divisional Lecture in Microbial Physiology
at the annual meetings of the American Society for Microbiology
, and in
2001, he received the MDS Fermentation Technologies Award from the
Society for In
dustrial Microbiology. In 2003, Dr. Nealson was awarded the
Proctor and Gamble Prize for Environmental Microbiology by the American
Society for Microbiology, and in 2004 he received the Selman Waksman medal
for teaching in microbiology, presented at the
annual meeting of the Society
for Industrial microbiology.
He recently was announced as the recipient of
the D.C. White Award for Research and Mentoring, from the ASM.
Dr. Nealson’s present work involves the study of biogeochemical
processes in ultra
sic (i.e., pH ≥11.5) environments, and extracellular
electron transport as it relates to the cycling of iron and manganese oxides,
as well as other insoluble components in sediment
s and other anoxic
environments, and to the use of such bacteria both for bi
oremediation of toxic
wastes, and for energy production in biofuel cells.