2023 NSS Luminary Series – Annette Engel

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NSS #31319 RL, FE, JM, SC

Annette’s scientific career has been guided by serendipity. At 12 years old, away at summer camp at Carter Caves State Resort Park in KY, she was captivated by biology professor Dr. Horton Hobbs III of Wittenberg University, and knew she wanted to be a biology professor. As an undergrad, she roamed the eastern US with Dr. Hobbs, researching cave critters; Pseudo- scorpions were her favorite. But she realized she wouldn’t be happy in a single discipline and embraced becoming an interdisciplinary scientist.

In 1994 she met Serban Sarbu, who was working on the study of chemosynthetic microorganisms in Movile Cave, Romania. She joined him there and at the Univ. of Cincinnati to pursue an MS in the Dept. of Geology. Then serendipity struck again when she learned of a NASA report about squiggles in a Martian meteorite being bacteria. Annette quickly decided that geomicrobiology was “her field.” During her research in Movile Cave, she realized how little research was being done on sulfuric acid speleogenesis and decided to pursue a second MS in biology.

In 1999, Annette decided to focus her doctorate work on Lower Kane Cave at The Univ. of Texas at Austin and went on to make discoveries that would attract the attention of book authors and TV networks. Then followed becoming a professor of geomicrobiology at Louisiana State Univ., and as a geochemistry professor at the Univ. of TN Knoxville. Annette took advantage of serendipitous opportunities to lead scientific expeditions around the world as well as to diversify her research portfolio into new directions.

Annette joined biospeleology teams to discover new cave life in eastern TN and uncover ecosystem processes in Hawaiian lava tubes. She and her collaborators have published their findings in dozens of scientific papers and in books, including Microbial Life of Cave Systems. Moreover, she has been honored by the NSS, the UIS, the Explorers Club, the Karst Waters Institute, the AAAS, and other organizations. Along the way, Annette has been a long-serving volunteer for, and leader within, caving grottos and non-profit organizations like the Karst Waters Institute, the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias, and the Cave Conservancy of Hawaiʻi. She is currently coordinating the Cave Conservancy Foundation’s Graduate Fellowship in Karst Studies program.

2023 NSS Luminary Series – Annette Engel

June 6, 2023

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