Kelly Sutherland, Associate Professor of Biology, received the Alec and Kay Keith Chair for her research on the movement of gelatinous zooplankton.
His research has led to a large number of well-cited works as well as external funding to support graduate students. Sutherland’s work analyzing the movement of jellies and his contribution to the Oregon Sea Grant’s Field Guide to Oregon Jellies led to his nomination for the Keith Professorship.
The Alec and Kay Keith Chair was established in 1994 to support senior professors in biology, chemistry and physics at the University of Oregon. Alec Keith was a UO alumnus in 1966, earning his doctorate in biology.
Evan Keith, son of Alec and his wife Kay, received three degrees from UO: a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1988, a doctorate in physics in 1994 and a master’s degree in mathematics in 2005. The Keith Chair is awarded to a faculty member in biology, chemistry or physics.
The Keith Professorship provides recipients with a salary allowance and research support for six years. Sutherland said the chair will allow his research group to continue their work on jet propulsion, a method used by aquatic animals to propel themselves through water, in marine plankton.
The team focuses specifically on colonial organisms called siphonophores, which resemble a string of pulsating jellyfish, and how they coordinate multiple swim units to swim effectively. Compared to simple jellyfish, colonial jellies are able to swim better than their solitary counterparts, and Sutherland’s group wishes to identify which aspects of body movement and swimming explain such efficient swimming in colonies.
“It is an honor to have been selected for this chair from among my creative and inspiring colleagues in the natural sciences,” said Sutherland. “In addition to the hard work, I appreciate the ingenuity. My favorite part of the science process is coming up with a good question and then figuring out how to approach the question and where to dive into the work.
The frost colonies can migrate hundreds of meters each day, which is equivalent to a human running a daily marathon. In order to determine which aspects explain the jelly’s successful swimming ability, the Sutherland team will develop diver-operated camera systems to observe the animals.
Oceanic plankton are fragile and difficult to access. Sutherland said the chair would allow him to explore new field sites, giving him more access to the frosts. As travel restrictions lift over the next year, Sutherland plans to examine field sites along the Kona Coast in Hawaii and Palau.
“We often bring the lab to the animals because they live in places far from the ocean,” she said. “This chair will allow me to try things that might be too risky for grant funding agencies, so I look forward to further research.”
—By Victoria Sanchez, University Communications