LUMCON director wins Genius Grant’

By Nikki Buskey, The Courier
2 October 2012


Nancy Rabalais, director of LUMCON.


A local scientist has been awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant.”

Nancy Rabalais, director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Cocodrie, or LUMCON, is a marine ecologist best known for her extensive work to map and study the growing dead zone off the Louisiana coast.

The dead zone is an area of low-to-no oxygen that annually forms off the Louisiana coast, creating areas of dead water that is inhospitable to marine life.

Each summer, the Hypoxia Research Team, led by Rabalais and researchers at LSU and LUMCON, travels the Louisiana coast to map the dead zone. They’ve been taking those cruises since 1985.

The 2012 dead zone spanned an area of 2,889 square miles, or just larger than the state of Delaware. The largest-ever dead zone occurred in 2002, covering an 8,400-square-mile area.

Her work to document the environmental and economic consequences of the Gulf dead zone, and to develop strategies to restore degraded waters in the Gulf and the Mississippi River Basin are what won her the honor.

“Dr. Nancy Rabalais has contributed greatly to our understanding of coastal problems in Louisiana and across the northern Gulf of Mexico,” said Donald Baltz, chairman of the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences. “She has long been an international leader in hypoxia research and is extremely deserving of the extraordinary recognition of her peers and the MacArthur Foundation.”

Rabalais said she was astonished when she received the call.

“I knew about the prestigious award and have always honored it, but never thought I would ever be one. It is truly an honor,” she said.

MacArthur Fellowship recipients will each receive $500,000 in no-strings-attached support over the next five years.

MacArthur Fellowships come without stipulations or reporting requirements, aiming to offer fellows freedom and opportunity to reflect, create and explore.

In addition to Rabalais, the 22 other recipients include a stringed instrument bow-maker, a journalist, a geochemist, a pediatric neurosurgeon and a photographer.

Rabalais said she will put the grant money back into the research, education and outreach she conducts with her colleagues.

In addition to her work at LUMCON, Rabalais is an LSU adjunct professor in the School of the Coast and Environment.

She’s served on a number of national boards, including chairing the National Research Council’s Ocean Studies Board and the National Sea Grant Advisory Board.

Past awards include the 1999 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Environmental Hero Award, the 1999 Blasker Award for Science and Engineering, The 12th Bostwick H. Ketchum Award from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the 17th Heinz Family Foundation Award and the 2012 Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Science.

Rabalais is also an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow and a past president of the Estuarine Research Federation.

“Dr. Rabalais’ many contributions to our field are being recognized by this singular honor,” said Christopher D’Elia, dean of the School of the Coast and Environment. “She is a most worthy recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.”

Nikki Buskey can be reached at 857-2205 or