March 7, 2008

Hover and Alm Chosen for Doherty Professorship

The MIT Sea Grant College Program has selected two recipients of the 2008 Doherty Professorship in Ocean Utilization. Franz Hover, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Eric Alm, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering, will each receive a supplemental award of $25,000 per year for two years.

Hover's research with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will focus on developing and demonstrating a manipulation system for unknown environments. Despite the theoretical understanding of how AUVs might gather materials from the deep sea, practical systems have not yet been demonstrated. Hover's project is aimed at giving AUVs the ability to sample benthic organisms, including corals, rocks and sediments. So equipped, vehicles will be positioned to support studies in earth history, climate change, paleoceanography, and potentially, drug discovery. Autonomous intervention also offers promise in deepwater offshore production.

In his Doherty-funded work, Alm will be studying genetic diversity in ocean bacteria. Through a multi-disciplinary approach, he will be seeking to better understand the genetic basis of ecological specialization in marine bacterioplankton. This will include identifying natural ecological populations boundaries from phylogenic/ecological data that is based on statistical learning methods. The research is expected to shed light on how molecular changes in the genomes of closely related microbial taxa influence ecological speciation.

In 2007, the two-year Doherty was awarded to Roman Stocker, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His Doherty-funded research focuses on improving our understanding of marine microorganisms, which are at the base of the oceans' food web and essential to the oceans' healthy functioning.

Endowed by the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, the Doherty Fellowship encourages promising, non-tenured professors to undertake marine-related research that will further innovative uses of the ocean's resources. The area of research may address any aspect of marine use and/or management, whether social, political, environmental, or technological.

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Dr. Franz Hover (left) and Dr. Eric Alm