Three big scientific non-profits in Woods Hole have hired new presidents in the last year, marking a major moment of change for this science and engineering town.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Biological Laboratory, and Woods Hole Research Center all have new chiefs. And they’re all dealing with similar pressures, especially when it comes to government funding.
Mark Abbott is the new president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Since 2001, he’s been the dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. He’s also served on the National Science Board, which is the body that oversees the National Science Foundation. He took the reins at WHOI on October 1.
Abbott says fundamental research will always be the core of WHOI. "It's in our DNA," he says. “And yes, we do work that does have direct applicability but I don’t see us moving into the short-term patent business development. Those will be spin-offs. The primary heart, the 80 percent core, will be understanding the ocean, how it’s changing, and its impact on our planet.”
Huntington Willard was chosen as the president of the Marine Biological Laboratory late last year. The MBL is an affiliate of the University of Chicago, where Willard holds a faculty appointment as Professor of Human Genetics. Willard received his Ph.D. from Yale University in human genetics.
“We should be clear that the MBL has always been and should always remain a fundamental biology discovery institution,” says Willard. “We are delighted when our discoveries can make an impact on the world around us, but in reality, we don’t understand the world at all."
Willard says MBL is driven by "the curiosity to find out what we don’t yet know."
Philip Duffy started as the new president of Woods Hole Research Center in January this year. Before that he served as the White House National Science and Technology Council’s Senior Advisor to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Early in his career, Duffy held senior research positions with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He has a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University.
Duffy says he was drawn to WHRC because of the high quality of the scientists working there.
“The other thing that is very appealing to me about the place is that we really do have societal relevance,” he says. “I love that the work that we do is on the front lines and is really super relevant.”