FAU Marine Science Trailblazer Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
Shirley Pomponi, Ph.D., an ocean explorer, aquanaut and marine biotechnologist, holds a marine sponge during an expedition.
Florida Atlantic University’s Shirley Pomponi, Ph.D., an ocean explorer, aquanaut and marine biotechnologist, will receive the Society for In Vitro Biology’s (SIVB) highest award – the 2022 “Lifetime Achievement Award.” The award recognizes scientists who have achieved academic excellence in their field of study and have made significant contributions in the advancement of in vitro biology. Pomponi has made pioneering, scientific advances and contributions to marine invertebrate biotechnology, biological oceanography and national marine policy.
SIVB is a professional society devoted to fostering the exchange of knowledge of in vitro biology of cells, tissues and organs from both plants and animals (including humans). The focus is on biological research, development, and applications of significance to science and society.
“I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Shirley to receive this prestigious lifetime achievement award from the Society for In Vitro Biology,” said James Sullivan, Ph.D., executive director of FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. “Her decades of discoveries and contributions in the fields of marine science and biotechnology have helped to better understand our oceans and marine life and have enabled our scientists and others to harness the power of marine natural products to develop medicines from the sea to address some of the most serious diseases globally.”
Pomponi is a research professor at FAU Harbor Branch and associate director of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology (CIOERT). She previously served as president, CEO and executive director of FAU Harbor Branch. She also served on the President’s Ocean Exploration Panel that resulted in the 2001 congressional authorization for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Congressional funding for critical marine science research to date.
She led the collection of more than 30,000 marine invertebrate and algal specimens, which support FAU Harbor Branch’s marine natural product drug discovery program. Since 1984, FAU Harbor Branch scientists have been examining natural chemicals and compounds derived from animals and plants from mangroves, grass flats, coral reefs, and the deep sea, resulting in promising drugs and therapeutics for the future.
Pomponi has broken barriers and set standards for the collection of marine invertebrate specimens and development of crucial marine invertebrate cell lines and drug discovery. These marine invertebrate specimens led to pivotal scientific discoveries and achievements to include development of the first immortalized marine invertebrate (sponge) cell lines, and drug discovery of bioactive sponge metabolites supporting the chemical, pharmaceutical and medical industries.
Among her numerous awards and recognitions include being inducted into the National Academy of Inventors and the Women Divers Hall of Fame, which recognizes the contributions of women pioneers, leaders and innovators in diving-related disciplines. She was recognized by Monmouth University as Champion of the Ocean in 2008. She has received the highest honors that can be awarded to graduates of both her undergraduate and graduate universities.
Pomponi was a member of an all-female science crew in NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) in the Aquarius underwater habitat off Key Largo, Florida in 2019. She led more than 30 research expeditions and more than 300 dives to depths greater than 3,000 feet in the famed Johnson Sea-Link manned submersibles.
From 2018 to 2021, she co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) committee on “Biological Collections: Their Past, Present, and Future Contributions and Options for Sustaining Them.” The study provided critical input to the National Science Foundation (NSF) on how biological collections can be made to adapt to changing scientific capabilities and societal needs. She also served as a member of the NSF Advisory Committee for Geosciences (2016-2021), which provides advice, recommendations and oversight for the NSF geosciences research and education portfolio. From 2013 to 2015, she co-chaired the NASEM study on ocean science priorities for the next decade, “Sea Change: 2015 – 2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences,” which provided recommendations on research, facilities, and funding priorities for NSF’s ocean science program.
“I am incredibly honored to receive this recognition from the Society of In Vitro Biology,” said Pomponi. “To be recognized by my peers is both humbling and rewarding. I hope that my research will inspire current and aspiring marine scientists to pursue their passions in ocean exploration and marine biotechnology.”
Pomponi holds nearly 30 United States patents for her various discoveries of marine compounds and has more than one hundred peer-reviewed publications to her credit.
She earned doctoral and master’s degrees in biological oceanography from the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and an undergraduate degree in biology from the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey.