Forbes honors young scientist

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Elora Lopez-Nandam stands out among young people.

California Academy of Sciences

Elora Lopez-Nandam stands out among young people.

California Academy of Sciences’ researcher Elora López-Nandam, PhD, was honored Wednesday, December 1, as one of Forbes Magazine’s Science 30 Under 30 for her research into the resilience of corals to warming oceans in the face of climate change. López-Nandam’s research is part of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative, which aims to reverse the rapid decline of Earth’s coral reefs in this generation and regenerate these vital ecosystems.

“I was thrilled and honored when I found out I was chosen as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30,” López-Nandam says. “It’s a powerful acknowledgment that people care about corals and the science the California Academy of Sciences is leading to help protect them. We hear so often about the problems facing coral reefs, but it’s just as important to shed light on some of the solutions.”

López-Nandam conducts much of her research in the Academy’s Coral Spawning Lab, one of just a few facilities in the world where coral successfully reproduce in an aquarium. Since corals rely on cues from the environment, such as temperature and the moon cycle, to reproduce, getting them to spawn in a lab setting requires round-the-clock monitoring and care from a dedicated team of biologists.

“Elora has been such an amazing colleague and innovative thinker,” says Academy Curator Rebecca Albright, PhD, who helped establish and leads the Coral Spawning Lab. “I love her passion for pursuing meaningful questions with real-world applications. I’m just over the moon about her receiving this honor.”

Successful lab-based spawning opens up whole new avenues of scientific research, including López-Nandam’s work analyzing what genes allow some corals to survive even amidst rising ocean temperatures. Identifying the hardiest corals can then inform conservation efforts, ensuring that resources are allocated for breeding individuals that are more heat-tolerant and resilient to climate change.

“Genetics and selective breeding will have a large part to play in regenerating healthy coral reefs,” López-Nandam says. “Just how big of a part is one of the questions we’re hoping to answer through the Coral Spawning Lab.”

While López-Nandam is overjoyed at being honored by Forbes, the celebrations will have to wait. The corals in the Coral Spawning Lab are expected to undergo their annual spawn any day now and once they do, she and her colleagues must move quickly to gather the embryos for their research.

“I’ve been on-site at the lab every day for weeks waiting for the big event,” says López-Nandam. “The best celebratory present for me would be for the corals to spawn today so I can get my experiments underway.”