In September, geochemist Richard W. Murray ’85, who spent 25 years on research teams of seagoing scientists, will become the new deputy director and vice president for research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The institution is a world leader in ocean research, exploration, and education.
Before taking the new job, Murray was director of the Ocean Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation and a professor of earth and environment at Boston University. Here is some of what he had to say in a recent interview.
In this era, with what’s going on with climate change, do you feel an urgency that your work is as important or more important than ever, or is that not something you think about?
Oh, we definitely think about that. And we have for years, right? It isn’t anything new for mainstream scientists and scientists who actually follow the scientific process. When I was down in D.C. with the National Science Foundation, which is a small independent agency as part of the Executive Branch, I did a lot of work with other Executive Branch offices under President Obama and under President Trump, and there’s obviously a very different sense of science in this new administration. And there’s certainly a dramatic change in appreciating what’s going on with climate change. The environment is under huge stress and being able to be involved at a place like Wood’s Hole, which is the largest and most well known oceanographic institution in the world, is another opportunity to give back and hopefully try to make this planet better. It’s the only home we know.
Do you miss being out on the water doing research?
I certainly will. The types of research that I do, or used to do, that I’m involved with, involves going way out to the deep sea. I’m not a person who studied things that are along the shoreline or along the continental margin. So when I used to go out to sea. we’d go out for six, seven, eight, eight-and-a-half weeks at a time. I have a very loving and tolerant family, and [that] enabled me to do that. But I’m definitely going to miss that. And I’m also going to miss, perhaps harkening back to my Hamilton days, but I’m also going to miss interacting with undergraduates and advising undergraduates in career paths, and their courses, what they are going through in a very critical time of their life — age 18 to 22 — with all the associated social, economic, personal, intellectual, pressures.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about what you’re doing or what you’ve done?
I would like to say ‘thank you’ to the taxpayers, because I think it’s important — and I appreciate and see that it’s a gift — that federal taxpayer dollars go to support science, and that it’s so essential for us and our society that they continue to do so. Because the benefits that come out of science, sometimes we can see them immediately, but other times they only bear fruit 10 years or 15 years later. And it’s important for the taxpayers to know that, and that we appreciate it, and that we are aware of it. The scientists that I work with at Woods Hole and elsewhere are very appreciative and cognizant of that.