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David Gruber Is Named A Distinguished Professor, CUNY’s Highest Faculty Honor

The City University of New York  Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to confer upon David Gruber, PhD, the title of CUNY Distinguished Professor. Distinguished Professorships are the highest honor that the university confers on faculty.

Dr. Gruber 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.”

Dr. Gruber is also a master of communicating his research to the public. His work is routinely featured by major media outlets like The New York Times and PBS and his TED Talk on fluorescence in sea animals has been viewed over 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 to decode the communication of whales.

David Gruber sits on a beach in scuba gear
David Gruber

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.

The title of Distinguished Professor 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. Dr. Gruber already holds the title of Presidential Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences at Baruch College. He is believed to be the only faculty member from the Department of Natural Sciences at Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences ever to receive the Distinguished Professor honor. Other Distinguished Professors at Baruch Weissman are Alison Griffiths (Communication Studies), Gail Levin (Art History), Arthur Apter (Mathematics), and Grace Schulman (English).

“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 toward their dreams of working in environmental research or in medical and health professions has been a joy.”

“David Gruber’s research and scientific contributions are truly thrilling,” said Baruch Weissman Dean Jessica Lang. “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.”

David Gruber underwater with camera
David Gruber underwater with camera

Dr. Gruber holds 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.

His interdisciplinary research pertains not only to marine biology, biofluorescence and bioluminescence, but also to genomics/transcriptomics of uncharacterized marine organism, deep-sea ecology, photosynthesis, and climate change.

Dr. Gruber’s 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.

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 YorkerThe New York TimesNature 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.

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