Benitez-Nelson Receives 2006 Ocean Sciences Early Career Award

Claudia Benitez-Nelson received the AGU Ocean Sciences Early Career Award at the 2006 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Calif., in recognition of significant contributions to and promise in the ocean sciences.



benitez-nelson_claudiaIt gives me great pleasure to introduce the AGU Ocean Sciences Early Career Award winner, Claudia Benitez-Nelson. Claudia grew up in Seattle and entered the University of Washington as a chemistry major at the age of 13. It was at UW that Claudia was introduced to oceanography, and by the time she finished, she had B.S. degrees in both physical chemistry and chemical oceanography. At UW, Claudia was a member of the women’s soccer team, an interest she still pursues with great passion. Claudia went on to get a Ph.D. in 1999 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program where she studied phosphorus cycling under the tutelage of Ken Buesseler. Following a postdoc at the University of Hawaii, Claudia was hired as an assistant professor at University of South Carolina in 2002 and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2006.

Those of you who are sports enthusiasts should be familiar with the term ‘franchise player.’ This is the one individual that a team wants to protect and keep at all costs. As the director of our Marine Science Program, I consider Claudia to be our ‘franchise faculty member.’ Claudia teaches with a great deal of passion, and despite being a very demanding teacher, the students give her rave reviews. This past year Claudia won the Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award, USC’s most prestigious teaching award. For her efforts outside the classroom Claudia received the 2005 Faculty of the Year Award from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Claudia gives an inordinate amount of her time to both professional and community activities. On a local level, Claudia has established a program called ScienceQuest. This started out as an after-school activity at a local middle school and has grown into an NSF-funded project with science clubs at several parks in Columbia. On the national level, Claudia serves on the ORION Science and Technology Advisory Committee and the 2007 ASLO Meeting Organizing Committee.

Claudia’s research utilizes a variety of geochemical and radiochemical tools to examine the biogeochemical cycling of phosphorus in the ocean. Her research has been instrumental in demonstrating that the incorporation of particulate phosphorus in biologically produced material is the primary mechanism for the removal of phosphorus from the upper ocean. Her work has shown that the remineralization of particulate phosphorus occurs rapidly and is an important process for the regeneration of both inorganic and organic phosphorus compounds to the dissolved phase. Recently, Claudia has begun using both solid and liquid state 31P NMR to elucidate the chemical composition of particulate P.

Although Claudia’s accomplishments to date are exceptional, I have no doubt that the best is yet to come. She is quickly becoming one of the leaders in the field of chemical oceanography and serves as a mentor and role model for aspiring young scientists. Claudia Benitez-Nelson is most deserving of the 2006 Ocean Sciences Early Career Award.

Robert Thunell, University of South Carolina, Columbia.


Thank you, Bob, for those generous words. I would also like to thank Billy Moore, Ken Buesseler, Adina Paytan, Michael Rutgers van der Loeff, Peggy Delaney, and Dave Karl for writing letters of support. It is such an honor to be recognized by the Ocean Sciences section of AGU.

I have had the good fortune to work with excellent scientists. The common bond they share is their dedication to research and education. My first exposure to ‘real’ oceanography occurred on a cruise with Jim Murray and Al Devol at the University of Washington. They showed me how to work hard while having fun. While I was a first-year graduate student at WHOI, my advisor, Ken Buesseler, sent me half way around the world to participate in an Arabian Sea JGOFS cruise. The trust Ken had in me to accomplish the job set the foundation for a fantastic advisor-student relationship that exists to this day. Ken taught me how to be an outstanding scientist and the importance of surrounding oneself with excellence. I would not be here if weren’t for the expertise of his research group, Café Thorium. After 5 years in New England, I jumped at the opportunity to work with Dave Karl at the University of Hawaii. He taught me the importance of long-term data sets and how to glean complex interactions in marine systems by viewing them as a whole. When it came time for me to find a permanent position, my mom gave me an important piece of advice: Go to the place that wants you the most. I found that at the University of South Carolina, an environment that has been supportive and encouraging and provided me with many opportunities for following my true passion of interdisciplinary research. Billy Moore and Bob Thunell have been incredible mentors and have made my time at USC so productive.

I love my work and have the best job in the world. Whether it’s having a graduate student propose a new research avenue, seeing a struggling undergraduate finally understand the material, or just waiting on deck for a glimpse of that elusive green flash—it’s all a joy. In fact if it weren’t for my husband, Bryan, and two wonderful children, Julia and Noah, I’d lose myself completely in my work.

To say I lean heavily on all those mentioned above and many others for support would be an understatement. Every day I strive to develop similar relationships with the students in my lab. As this is called an Early Career Award and based on the subsequent performance of previous winners, I think it’s safe to say that I’m expected to keep up the good work. Fortunately, I am surrounded by excellent colleagues, students, and an amazing technician, Renee Styles. All of whom make it easy to carry on and pass the excitement and knowledge onto others.

Claudia Benitez-Nelson, University of South Carolina, Columbia.