Thure Cerling

University of Utah

2017 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award Winner

Thure Cerling and James Ehleringer received the 2017 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The award honors “a sustained commitment to excellence in geophysical education by a team, individual, or group.


We are honored to cite Thure E. Cerling and James R. Ehleringer for empowering generations of students with a rich and interdisciplinary understanding of stable isotope techniques and their applications. Stable isotope data span the Earth system and provide unique and quantitative windows to biological and geochemical processes. As -world-​-renowned scientists, Cerling and Ehleringer pioneered isotope studies and made them invaluable to biogeochemistry, ecology and paleoecology, forensics, and the climate sciences. Yet even as these fields expanded rapidly in the 1990s, Cerling and Ehleringer recognized that stable isotope biogeoscience was not open to all. Students at many smaller or foreign universities lacked access to expertise, training, and analytical resources. They also recognized that students from different disciplines had much to learn from each other. Therefore, they brought students together with top isotope scientists from many fields for an intensive course on isotope theory, analysis, and interdisciplinary applications. They created networks of collaborations and friendships among scientifically, culturally, and internationally diverse young scientists, who have gone on to become leaders in a wide range of the geophysical sciences.

Thure Cerling and Jim Ehleringer are the intellectual, inspirational, and organizational forces behind a -hands-​-on, intensive, -2-week summer course offered annually since 1996. “Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry and Ecology” (affectionately known as IsoCamp) has trained more than 750 students from over 250 institutions in 37 countries across a multitude of scientific disciplines. The 2 weeks of IsoCamp include morning lectures from leading scholars on foundation principles, theory and process, and applications of stable isotope analyses. Students spend each afternoon in the field or in the isotope laboratory, where they are exposed to real-life problems, make their own isotope measurements, and participate in team-based projects. IsoCamp gives students both the fundamental knowledge needed to understand isotopic variations and the confidence to present interpretations of the results to their peers. Students advance rapidly from tentative newcomers, fueled by lectures, discussions, and growing experience in the field and lab. By the second week, students have gained the ability to envision their own projects and decide how best to apply an arsenal of available isotope methods and have built a lasting esprit de corps as they scramble to complete their projects before presentation.

Thure Cerling and James Ehleringer have created a transformative learning and networking experience for multiple academic generations of researchers and established the archetypical model of a successful summer short course for colleagues around the country.

—Brian N. Popp, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu; and Katherine H. Freeman, Pennsylvania State University, University Park


We are very honored to accept the Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award for 2017. It is a privilege to join others before us who have received this award.

We first began offering Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry and Ecology (-IsoCamp) as -2-week summer lecture and laboratory short courses in 1996. At that time, we did not anticipate that today we would still be offering -IsoCamp, a team-taught multidisciplinary effort attracting students from across the nation and around the world! Given the benefit of time, it has been rewarding to follow the careers of students as they develop into researchers and leaders. We would like to believe that -IsoCamp contributed to their successes.

Our vision was to offer lectures and -hands-​-on laboratory experiences that brought together students and faculty from the many disciplines that use isotopes to study the Earth, climate, and biological sciences—from anthropology to zoology and from paleoclimatology to oceanography. We could see through our own students and visitors to our respective labs that a broader perspective of science would better prepare them to engage in the dizzying variety of stable isotopes applications. Realizing that we two could not provide the breadth of training, we recruited colleagues from across the stable isotope community to help teach -IsoCamp. Each instructor has a passion for teaching and full engagement with students. Our acceptance of this award is also for these 20+ instructors who have contributed to teaching over the years—some are in the audience today. Thank you!

One of the great things about being in science is the training of new generations of scientists. We believe in -cross-​-disciplinary training, in providing opportunities for the next generation, and in ensuring participation of both underrepresented and international students. -IsoCamp gives students and faculty alike the opportunity for both social bonding and constructive science discussions, seeding long-term connections and collaborations. Every year this course establishes a network of 30 or so scientists who go forward in their respective careers having worked together to solve new problems and gain new skills.

We are thankful to the many students who have participated in -IsoCamp, to the many faculty and staff who have helped us offer this course. And we especially thank our families, who welcome dozens of young scientists into their lives for a few weeks each year. This could not have happened without the support of Edna and Mahala!

—Thure Cerling and James Ehleringer, University of Utah, Salt Lake City