Sallie W. Chisholm

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Sallie Watson Chisholm
ResidenceMassachusetts, United States
Alma materSkidmore College
University at Albany, SUNY
Known forStudy of phytoplankton, especially Prochlorococcus
AwardsNational Medal of Science
Alexander Agassiz Medal (2010)
Crafoord Prize (2019)
Scientific career
FieldsMarine biology
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Sallie Watson (Penny) Chisholm (born in 1947 in Marquette, USA) is a U.S. biological oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is an expert in the ecology and evolution of ocean microbes.


Chisholm graduated from Marquette Senior High School in Marquette, MI in 1965.[1] She attended Skidmore College and earned a Ph.D. from SUNY Albany in 1974.

Professional work[edit]

Chisholm has been a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1976. Her research has focused on the ecology of marine phytoplankton.[2] Chisholm's early work focused on the processes by which such plankton take up nutrients and the manner in which this affects their life cycle on diurnal time scales. This led her to begin using flow cytometry which can be used to measure the properties of individual cells.

The application of flow cytometry to environmental samples led Chisholm and her collaborators (most notably R.J. Olson and H.M. Sosik) to the discovery that small plankton (in particular Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus) accounted for a much more substantial part of marine productivity than had previously been realized. Previously, biological oceanographers had focused on silicaceous diatoms as being the most important phytoplankton, accounting for 10-20 gigatons of carbon uptake each year. Chisholm's work showed that an even larger amount of carbon was cycled through these small algae, which may also play an important role in the global nitrogen cycle.

In recent years, Chisholm has played a visible role in opposing the use of iron fertilization as a technological fix for anthropogenic climate change.[3]

Honors and awards[edit]

Chisholm has been a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences (NAS) since 2003 and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1992.

In January 2010, she was awarded the Alexander Agassiz Medal, for "pioneering studies of the dominant photosynthetic organisms in the sea and for integrating her results into a new understanding of the global ocean." [4]

She was a co-recipient in 2012 of the Ruth Patrick Award from the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.[2]

Chisholm received the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama on February 1, 2013.[2]

In 2013, she was awarded the Ramon Margalef Prize in Ecology, “for being one of the most productive, charismatic and active researchers on biology and marine ecology”.[5]

On May 24, 2018, she was awarded the Doctor of Science degree by Harvard University.[6]

In 2019 she received the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences, “for the discovery and pioneering studies of the most abundant photosynthesising organism on Earth, Prochlorococcus”.[7]

Select publications[edit]

  • Chisholm, S.W. 2012. Unveiling Prochlorococcus: The Life and times of the ocean’s smallest photosynthetic cell. 2012. In: Microbes and Evolution: The World That Darwin Never Saw. In: R. Kolter and S. Maloy [eds]. ASM Press. p. 165.
  • Coleman, M. L.; Chisholm, S. W. (2010). "Ecosystem-specific selection pressures revealed by comparative population genomics". PNAS. 107 (43): 18634–18639. doi:10.1073/pnas.1009480107. PMC 2972931. PMID 20937887.
  • Lindell, D.; Jaffe, J.D.; Coleman, M.L.; Axmann, I.M.; Rector, T.; Kettler, G.; Sullivan, M.B.; Steen, R.; Hess, W.R.; Church, G.M.; Chisholm, S. W. (2007). "Genome-wide expression dynamics of a marine virus and host reveal features of coevolution". Nature. 449 (7158): 83–86. doi:10.1038/nature06130. PMID 17805294.
  • Chisholm, S.W.; Falkowski, P.G.; Cullen, J.J. "Dis-Crediting Ocean Fertilization". Science. 294 (309–310): 2001.
  • Chisholm, S.W.; Olson, R.J.; Zettler, E.R.; Goericke, R.; Waterbury, J.; Welschmeyer, N. (1988). "A novel free-living prochlorophyte abundant in the oceanic euphotic zone". Nature. 334 (6180): 340–343. doi:10.1038/334340a0.

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