Manahan Named Honorary Fellow

For his contributions to science and his pioneering work in the Antarctic, Donal Manahan becomes an Honorary Fellow of the Welsh university where he earned his doctorate.
Susan Bell

Donal Manahan, professor of biological sciences and vice dean for students at USC Dornsife, has been appointed an Honorary Fellow of Bangor University in Wales. Manahan was honored for his contributions to science and in particular for the many scientific research and educational expeditions he has led to the Antarctic during his 31-year career at USC Dornsife.

Manahan was formally awarded the fellowship during the degree ceremony held at Bangor University on July 15. The ceremony was followed by an official Fellows Dinner at which Manahan was asked to speak on behalf of the new fellows.

The Honorary Fellowship is a highly prestigious award bestowed by Bangor University on an annual basis to distinguished individuals who have a connection with the university, or with Wales, and who have made an outstanding contribution to their chosen field.

“Anytime you are recognized for your contributions to your chosen field by professional colleagues makes you feel honored and humbled,” Manahan said. “When this recognition comes from a place that helped form you, it is something very personal and special.”

Honorary Fellowships have been awarded for the last 20 years with over 150 individuals honored. Bangor University’s Honorary Fellows from preceding years include Lyn Evans Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) and Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), a director at The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Switzerland, who is linked to the discovery that led to the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. Welsh comedian, screenwriter, actor, film director and author Terry Jones, who is best known as a member of the Monty Python comedy team, was also honored last year for his contribution to the arts.

Manahan came to Bangor University in the late 70s to earn his Ph.D. in biological sciences after receiving his undergraduate degree from Trinity College, The University of Dublin, in his native Ireland.

He credits Bangor University, a major center of excellence in the United Kingdom for the study of the environment, with having a formative impact on his scientific career.

“Bangor University is where my career really blossomed in the sense of thinking about the world of research,” Manahan said. “The greatest gift they gave me was encouraging me to think about the world of biology from the point of view of biochemistry to study how organisms adapt to the environment. Now of course that is a more common field of study, but more than 30 years ago, I was fortunate to be part of a group that was already thinking about this in very sophisticated ways.

Manahan, who has worked many seasons in Antarctica since1983 as a United States Antarctic Program Principal Investigator studying the developmental physiology of marine animals and was chair of the Polar Research Board at the National Academy of Sciences, has a mountain in Antarctica named after him for his contributions to science and education on the seventh continent. The 6,000-foot high Manahan Peak is located near the U.S. Antarctic research center at McMurdo Station, a couple of miles from where polar explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton set up their base for the push to the South Pole during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration at the turn of the 20th century.

“I was interested in understanding the biochemistry of life in cold environments and the physiological basis of adaptation,” Manahan said. “That’s what drew me to Antarctica. I started doing this about 30 years ago, long before most people were concerned about climate change and biological resilience and adaptation — or lack of — to changing environments.”

As a professor at USC Dornsife, Manahan founded and directed — over a period of 20 years — the only formal education program ever offered on the continent of Antarctica that connects young scientists to the last great wilderness.

“As director of the International Graduate Training Course in Antarctic Biology, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, I would bring about 40 people with me on these programs in Antarctica,” Manahan said.

Many early-career scientists from 130 institutions in 30 countries have participated since he founded the program in 1994.

The month-long course, administered through USC Dornsife, focuses on integrative biology — the study of organisms from their genes to the functioning of the whole organism. Participants are also exposed to an array of Antarctic disciplines: atmospheric sciences, glaciology, chemistry and geology to name a few. Their team-oriented laboratory and field-based projects probe how life adapts in extreme environments.

“I think my most important contribution to science might be that I helped to train the next generation of project leaders at a time when change and adaptation on the planet is of vital importance,” said Manahan, who is the former director of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, housed in USC Dornsife.

“My contributions to both research and education matter to me a great deal. What is most important to me is that balance between innovative research and innovative teaching.”