Citation by Thomas Algeo, University of Cincinnati
Ariel Anbar is a world-class geoscientist and educator who has made outstanding research contributions, mentored generations of students, and vigorously promoted science in the public sphere. He is a leader in the development of high-mass isotopic systems (Fe, Mo, U) that have yielded new insights into biogeochemical cycles and the evolution of Earth-surface conditions through time, around which large new research communities have emerged. Key themes of his research are (1) secular variations in the transition metal inventory of seawater for metalloenzymes, the metabolic pathways they catalyze, and the ecosystems they sustain, and (2) the history of oxygenation of Earth’s surface environments. He has been a leader in the Early Earth systems research community, assembling teams of researchers to tackle ‘big issue’ questions that require diverse expertise and large funding commitments. He has built bridges to the biomedical community to investigate the use of isotopes in disease diagnosis, e.g., calcium isotopes in diseases of bone metabolism. He has been innovative in pedagogy, teaching an online astrobiology-themed intro science course called “Habitable Worlds”, and developing “virtual field trips” (VFTs) for general internet audiences. His innovative teaching methods have been featured in leading pedagogical journals such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, two TED lectures, and interviews by NBC, PBS, Bloomberg Press, Forbes, and Scientific American, among other media organizations. Ariel Anbar embodies a rare combination of excellence in research, outstanding mentoring abilities, and creativity in teaching and public outreach.
Response by Ariel D. Anbar
Thank you. I am deeply grateful to Tom, the nominators, and the GSA evaluation committee for this honor. I owe a great debt to many exceptional students, partners, and colleagues – too many to list here. And of course, to my mentors and, especially, to my family who inspired, motivated, and sustained me to this point. I cannot thank you enough.
It’s humbling to see my name on the list of Day Medal awardees - people I know as heroes and legends, as esteemed mentors, and a few senior “near peers” who inspired me through their examples. I can’t help but ask “how did I wind up on this very exclusive list?”
Ironically, a big part of what got me here was that I learned over the years to stop viewing the word “exclusive” as a positive thing. Instead, I came to understand the importance of fostering an inclusive culture in the teams I lead. This wasn’t obvious to a young scientist trained at Harvard and Caltech! It began by necessity, because I wasn’t initially able to recruit students and staff who fit the traditional mold. I felt that I had no choice but to try to create an environment in which everyone could grow and contribute in their own way, at their own pace.
What emerged was awesome. A culture of inclusion led organically to a research group diverse in many ways. Many came from non-traditional paths and backgrounds. Some needed help through serious academic challenges. A few came from minoritized racial groups – too few, reflecting a deeper systemic problem in the geosciences that I’m working with others to address. Through it all, I’m proud that about half of the people in my group were – and still are – women.
Taking an inclusive approach seems risky to some, because it cuts against the grain of an academic culture which tends to pride itself on being exclusive. Consider that in the 72-year history of the Day Medal, it’s only been awarded to 4 women, and to even fewer people of color. That’s not an accident. It’s a consequence of a culture of exclusion.
But rejecting that culture is not really risky at all. On the contrary, I found that a diversity of identities in my research group led to a diversity of ideas, experiences, perspectives, and personalities that enriched our science and enhanced everyone’s success – mine as much as anyone’s. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.
So, over time, I embraced the idea that anyone with the ability and ambition to reach for excellence and a serious interest in our science should be welcome – and that I should use what privilege and power I have to make that possible. I’m inspired by the many others who I see doing the same – not enough, but more every year. We’ll know we are getting somewhere when the geoscience community looks more like our diversifying society, and when the list of Day Medalists starts to look more like our diversifying geoscience community. Our science will be better for it – and so will our society.
Again, thank you for this honor.