Baruch’s David Gruber Appointed CUNY Distinguished Professor, the Highest Faculty Honor Across the University
May 3, 2022
On March 21, 2022, The City University of New York (CUNY) Board of Trustees voted unanimously to confer upon David Gruber, PhD, the title of CUNY Distinguished Professor.
CUNY Distinguished Professorships are the highest honor that the University confers on faculty and the highest rank that a CUNY professor can achieve. Among the 7,300 full-time faculty within the CUNY system, there are currently 136 active Distinguished Professors.
Dr. Gruber, who holds the title of Presidential Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences at Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, is a marine biologist who has studied sea creatures all over the world, from the South Pacific to the Arctic. His scholarly research has been widely published in scientific journals like Nature, and his work in collaboration with other researchers includes discovering more than 180 species of fluorescent fish. His discovery with others of biofluorescence in a reptile, a Hawksbill sea turtle, was listed by National Geographic as one of the “top 20 scientific discoveries of the decade” for “seeing animals’ unexpected sides.”
He was awarded the 2019 Lagrange Prize, the greatest international recognition for complex systems science, for his research “focused on the conservation of biodiversity, protection of resources and the safeguarding of ecosystems.”
World Renowned Scholar, Explorer, and Inventor
“David Gruber’s research and scientific contributions are truly thrilling,” said Jessica Lang, PhD, dean of the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. “He is creative in his approach, asks big questions that captivate a global audience, and has advanced scientific discovery on so many fronts. His dedication to environmental science and awareness inspires our students in the classroom and in the field. The Weissman School of Arts and Sciences is proud to celebrate this wonderful recognition of Professor Gruber’s many accomplishments.”
Dr. Gruber’s interdisciplinary research pertains not only to marine biology, biofluorescence and bioluminescence, but also to genomics/transcriptomics of uncharacterized marine organisms, deep-sea ecology, photosynthesis, and climate change.
His deep-diving scientific diving teams have discovered scores of unique biofluorescent compounds, several of which have been developed into tools to find better cancer drugs. A former tropical forester for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Dr. Gruber’s research utilizes Remote Operated Vehicles, extended-range SCUBA and soft robotics (in collaboration with the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory) to investigate corals, sponges and delicate forms of marine fauna.
Dr. Gruber is passionate about utilizing modern technology to view the underwater world from marine creatures’ perspectives. In this vein, his group developed a “shark-eye” camera to gain a shark’s perspective of their marine environment. Gruber also led the first study to apply advanced deep machine learning techniques to better detect and classify Sperm Whale bioacoustics.
A Commitment to Sharing Knowledge
Dr. Gruber is also a master of communicating his research to the public. Major media outlets like The New York Times and PBS routinely feature his work, and his TED Talk on fluorescence in sea animals has been viewed more than 2.5 million times. His collaboration with the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory on the invention of one of the most delicate robots in the world, a robot with soft noodle-like fingers than can even handle jellyfish without inducing stress, was widely publicized. His latest passion, Project CETI, is a large-scale interdisciplinary collaboration that uses artificial intelligence and gentle robotics to decode the communication of whales. This is the subject of his second TED Talk.
Dr. Gruber also serves on the faculty of the PhD Program in Biology at the CUNY Graduate Center and the CUNY Macaulay Honors College. He is an Explorer for National Geographic, a Research Associate in Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, and an Adjunct Faculty member at the John B. Pierce Laboratory of the Yale School of Medicine.
“I am honored to partake in the University’s mission to provide a public first-rate education to all students, regardless of means or background; and am humbled to be serving in this mission alongside many amazing CUNY undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff,” Dr. Gruber said. “Supporting and mentoring students and then witnessing them achieve their dreams of working in environmental research or in medical and health professions is a joy.”
Dr. Gruber completed a PhD in biological oceanography from the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Brown University Division of Biology and Medicine, working to develop fluorescent proteins into modulatable probes with neurobiological and medical applications. He also holds master’s degrees in coastal environmental management from Duke University and in journalism from Columbia University.
He serves as a scientific advisor and producer for WNYC Studio 360’s “Science and Creativity” series. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Nature Medicine and The Best American Science Writing. He is the co-author of Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence (Harvard University Press).
From 2017-2018, Dr. Gruber was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and he will be a 2022-2023 Visiting Scholar at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School Of Engineering And Applied Sciences.
About CUNY’s Highest Faculty Honor
The number of Distinguished Professors is limited to 250 across CUNY. The title designates an exceptional scholar with a national and international reputation for scholarly and/or research excellence, whose outstanding accomplishments enrich the University’s academic environment.
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