Antarctic science loses one of its greatest innovators

Last week, Professor S. Craig Cary passed away unexpectedly. With his passing, Antarctic science has lost one of its greatest innovators.

Science, that wonderful system of conjecture and refutation, depends entirely on clever ideas and new insights. Craig always had them.

His inventiveness as a microbiologist, primarily, and as an Antarctic scientist seemed to know no bounds. Whether his attention was turned to hypolithic communities, geothermal hotspots of diversity, hydrothermal vents, or the best ways to distinguish dispersal from local processes in Dry Valley communities, Craig’s innovation was apparent everywhere. No terrestrial ecologist will forget the “ancient relic” paper using a dead seal for an exceptionally effective assessment of carbon addition to an otherwise carbon poor system. Moreover, his work was foundational for current understanding of Antarctic ecology. By applying modern sequencing technologies, he definitively renounced the classical view that Antarctica was a largely “barren” continent and uncovered that it’s in fact teaming with unique microbial life.

Craig was always generous with his ideas. In fact, more so. He was enthusiastic about sharing them and about emboldening his team and colleagues to look into them. His infectious approach extended not only to new ideas, but also to testing carefully existing ones. His approach meant that when he turned his mind to something, progress in the area was swift. Much of current Antarctic microbiology owes its advanced state to Craig’s insights, generosity and unfailing capability to combine theory with incisive field and laboratory work.

Spending time with Craig involved equal parts of intellectual adventure and good spirits. His generosity extended to every aspect of his interactions with colleagues. Craig never missed an opportunity to make every person in any setting feel comfortable and part of the great quest that is scientific discovery. The ambience and success of the SCAR Biology Symposium held in Christchurch last year is the most recent testimony to this extraordinary person. Through his science, leadership, and communication, Craig has been a remarkable ambassador for Antarctica.

Craig will be missed by everyone in the Antarctic science community. We will all be much the poorer for his absence at meetings and gatherings. But we will be buoyed by his great intellectual legacy, and will continue it.

Condolences from all of us at SAEF to Craig’s family, friends and colleagues.