Dirk Post planned to finish graduate school and earn an economics degree. Then, World War II disrupted his plans. Instead, he helped defend his native Holland and later founded chocolate shops throughout Amsterdam. He was determined, though, that his son, Anton, would have a university education.
"In many ways, I live his dream," said Anton Post, Ph.D., the new executive director of Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (Harbor Branch). Post is also charged with developing and implementing programs that build on the success of all marine and environmental research occurring across FAU's six campuses.
Post's father probably could not have imagined that his son would go on to achieve international acclaim as an oceanographer and phytoplankton researcher, but to Post, his career path was obvious.
"When you're a Dutchman, you're born and raised next to water, so exploring the aquatic environment was a very natural choice," he said.
At the University of Amsterdam, Post majored in biology and went on to earn a Master of Science in aquatic ecology and a Ph.D. in microbial ecology.
He took a postdoctoral position at Hebrew University in Israel, where he ventured into marine biology, translating his science from freshwater biology to marine ecosystems.
"I specialize in plant life in aquatic environments," Post said. "I work with algae, which we depend on for producing the oxygen we breathe. Marine and freshwater ecosystems depend on algae to sustain life."
Post spent nearly 20 years in Israel, where he and his wife raised their three children. During that time, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sallie Chisholm, Ph.D., made an important discovery in marine algae. She stated that a newly discovered, abundant but microscopically small, marine alga accounts for some 25 percent of global oxygen production. Post sought to collaborate with Chisholm.
From 1994 to 2004, Post spent summers at MIT as a visiting scholar. U.S. science invigorated him. According to Post, American researchers had much more latitude to conduct ground breaking work than in Holland.
Post eventually relocated to the U.S. to take a position at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., an international center for research and education in biology, biomedicine and environmental science.
Most recently, Post served as program director in ocean sciences at the National Science Foundation and as the executive director of the University of Rhode Island's Coastal Resources Center, Graduate School of Oceanography.
Post characterized the Harbor Branch position as a natural match, noting that it aligned with his background, expertise and experience.
"Harbor Branch was on my radar even though I had never visited," he said. "It has an excellent reputation."
Post was impressed by what he heard from FAU President John Kelly and Daniel Flynn, the vice president for research, who conveyed their desire to make FAU "a major research institution."
"It's not just the university's ambition," he said. "They make resources available to people with ambition. There's a very positive energy that pervades the university and Harbor Branch, and I want to be part of it."
Post's hire is part of FAU's strategic effort to promote interdisciplinary research by combining expertise among all of the university's colleges and centers.
One of Post's main concerns is global climate change. The sea level, he said, is rising an inch a decade, "so that means Florida, at some point, will be underwater."
"Florida … is ground zero for the impact of global climate change," he said. "Water is everywhere. When the sea level rises, so does the ground water. How do we manage our coast, and provide quality of life and economic well-being for coastal communities? That is one of the largest challenges of our lifetime."
"Part of a state university, we have an opportunity and an obligation to provide the state of Florida and its coastal communities with the best science and engineering to help them mitigate the impact of global climate change."
Post said he'd like to develop the science and technology needed to underpin climate change education in Florida. He would like to use Harbor Branch research to collaborate university-wide in developing educational programs to train the next generation of coastal scientists and managers.
First, Post says he needs to get acclimated to the Sunshine State, which he visited for the first time when he interviewed for his new role at FAU.
"What most surprised me about Florida was how green, how low-lying and how much water there is here," he said. "I felt like I was back in Holland."