Public Release: 

National Geographic announces its Emerging Explorers for 2012

Society identifies next generation of innovative scientists and storytellers pushing boundaries of discovery, adventure and global problem-solving

National Geographic Society

WASHINGTON (May 15, 2012)--A cyborg anthropologist, a pilot, a digital storyteller and zoologist, a crisis mapper and a guerrilla geographer are among the 15 visionary, young trailblazers from around the world who have been named to the 2012 class of National Geographic Emerging Explorers.

National Geographic's Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists and storytellers, who are pushing the boundaries of discovery, adventure and global problem-solving while still early in their careers.

The Emerging Explorers each receive a $10,000 award to assist with research and to aid further exploration. The program is made possible in part by the Panasonic Corporation.

The 2012 Emerging Explorers are U.S. cyborg anthropologist Amber Case; U.K. digital storyteller and zoologist Lucy Cooke; U.K. behavioral ecologist Iain Couzin; Mexican underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda; chemist Yu-Guo Guo of China; conservationist Osvel Hinojosa Huerta of Mexico; U.S. pilot and educator Barrington Irving; conservation biologist Krithi Karanth of India; Swiss crisis mapper Patrick Meier; U.S. archaeologist Sarah Parcak; U.S. data scientist Jake Porway; U.K. guerrilla geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison; U.S. archaeologist Jeffrey Rose; engineer and renewable energy advocate Ibrahim Togola of Mali; and archaeologist Daniel Torres Etayo of Cuba. The new Emerging Explorers are introduced in the June 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine, and comprehensive profiles can be found at

National Geographic Emerging Explorers may be selected from virtually any field, from the Society's traditional arenas of anthropology, archaeology, photography, space exploration, earth sciences, mountaineering and cartography to the worlds of technology, music and filmmaking.

"National Geographic's mission is to inspire people to care about the planet, and our Emerging Explorers are outstanding young leaders whose endeavors further this mission. We are pleased to support them as they set out on promising careers. They are innovators in their respective fields and represent tomorrow's Edmund Hillarys, Jacques Cousteaus and Dian Fosseys," said Terry Garcia, National Geographic's executive vice president for Mission Programs.

Cyborg anthropology is a framework for understanding the effects of objects and technology on culture. Cyborg anthropologist Amber Case studies the interaction between humans and computers and how our relationship with information is changing the way we think, act and understand our world. She believes that how we interact with machines and technology in many ways defines who we are. She has observed an increasingly symbiotic relationship between people and technology, and she feels that today's technologies amplify our humanness. Her research in mobile software and data visualization has helped influence business strategy and productivity for people online. Her insights are shaping new products, the way tech insiders think, and ideas that will make technology a more empowering, rather than frustrating, part of daily life. She is the founder of Geoloqi, a company building cutting-edge, location-based technologies for mobile phones.

Digital storyteller and zoologist Lucy Cooke is on a one-woman crusade to champion ugly, unappreciated and unloved creatures and show why they deserve our attention, study and protection. Through her popular and quirky blogs, online videos, films and TV programs, she reaches a wide audience, spreading her conservation message that if we only care for "cute" and best-loved species, other enormously crucial parts of the web of life could vanish forever. Frogs top her underdog list. Over a third of all amphibians are heading for oblivion. It's the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped out and one that will reverberate through the entire food chain, but they don't grab headlines like pandas or polar bears. Cooke hopes to inspire people to share her sense of wonder, amazement and love of nature's freaks. "Once you understand why they're ugly or odd, I hope you'll appreciate and want to save them as much as I do," she says.

Behavioral ecologist Iain Couzin (Ph.D.) is assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton. His work aims to reveal the fundamental principles that underlie collective behavior. His research, which includes the study of a wide range of biological systems, from schools of fish to human crowds, explores how large-scale biological patterns result from interactions of the individual components of a system. Through his work on insect swarm behavior, he is improving understanding of how people, animals and even diseases manage to accomplish things in groups that they never could as individuals. He blends fieldwork, lab experiments, computer simulations and complex mathematical models to test theories of why cells, animals and humans organize and work together. "Scientists are realizing how important it is to gain knowledge about group dynamics. Sometimes nature surprises us with solutions more elegant than anything we could imagine," he says.

Underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda (Ph.D.), a professor and researcher at the Autonomous University of Yucatán, specializes in skeletal anthropology. He dives into remote, flooded caves and cenotes (sinkholes) in Mexico, searching for ancient Maya settlements. He spent five years combing the 450-year-old records of Spanish Inquisition trials, uncovering testimony that a series of caves he has explored may be where the Maya tried to depict their legendary pathway into the underworld. Archaeologists have long known the Maya regarded caves as sacred and that they built structures in some of them. But de Anda's team used the Inquisition trial records to locate and connect a series of sacred caves and link them to the concept of the Maya road to the underworld and a millenary ritual tradition. In the caves he has found human bones, elaborate construction projects, altars, murals, submerged temples and pyramids -- and a massive, perfectly paved road stretching more than 100 meters into a watery abyss.

Chemist Yu-Guo Guo (Ph.D.) has invented advanced nanostructures that could transform electric-car batteries, allowing them to deliver more power at less cost. Currently battery packs account for much of the cost of electric cars. For Guo, a professor of chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, the crucial innovation was a better way to use lithium iron phosphate, a material favored by automakers because its stable chemistry makes it safe for use in large electric-vehicle battery packs. The nanostructures he has invented let electrons reach every lithium storage particle, enabling a more efficient flow of electric current and a far more powerful result. This new high-power technology means batteries can be fully charged in just a few minutes, as quickly and as easily as filling up with gas. These advanced batteries recover more energy when cars stop, deliver more power when cars start and allow vehicles to run longer.

Conservationist Osvel Hinojosa Huerta (Ph.D.) has been leading efforts to restore the Colorado River Delta in Mexico, including the implementation of strategies to restore river flows and re-create crucial wetland areas so that wildlife and local economies can flourish again. A century ago, this million-acre delta teemed with dense willow, cottonwood and mesquite forests, green lagoons and marshes, and thousands of water birds. Just one generation of damming brought the river to a halt, and today 80 percent of the wetland areas have been lost, replaced with bare soil and hypersaline mudflats. Invasive species choke out native plants, migratory bird populations have declined and the river no longer reaches the sea most of the year. Hinojosa Huerta works with local communities and environmental groups to reclaim and restore delta wetlands and reconnect the river with the Gulf of California, by allocating water for nature and planting native vegetation, resulting in the recovery of environmental services and the return of wildlife.

Jamaican-born pilot and educator Barrington Irving's mission is to inspire young people to identify and pursue their dreams through dynamic educational programs designed to build math, science, reading and problem-solving skills through the world of aviation. Raised in Miami's inner city, surrounded by crime and poverty, he beat the odds to become the youngest person and first black pilot to fly solo around the world -- in a plane built from individual components that he asked manufacturers to donate. He made his historic 97-day flight -- and founded an educational nonprofit -- before the age of 23. He then graduated magna cum laude from an aeronautics science program. His nonprofit, Experience Aviation, aims to boost the number of youth in aviation and other science- and math-related careers. His next endeavor will transform a jet into the world's first flying classroom that will circle the globe sharing science, technology, engineering, math, geography, culture and history: education from 45,000 feet.

Conservation biologist Krithi Karanth (Ph.D.) is a Ramanujan Fellow and executive director at the Centre for Wildlife Studies (India) and adjunct faculty at Duke University (U.S.), with an interest in human dimensions of conservation, species extinctions, impacts of wildlife tourism and resettlement of people in one of the world's most populous countries: India. She studies human-environment interactions, focusing on protected areas and their relationship to people living around them. Her current research examines human-wildlife conflicts, land use change and species occurrence outside several Indian protected areas. Endangered wildlife is being ousted from its habitat and, in turn, is decimating crops of impoverished villagers. Karanth is involved in surveys and mapping of landscapes and populations that will be crucial to protection for parks, encouraging cultural tolerance for wildlife and compensating people suffering from conflict with animals. She involves "citizen scientists" to interview villagers and collect data, which gives them an appreciation for the challenges of conservation.

Patrick Meier (Ph.D.) pioneers the lifesaving new field of crisis mapping and makes it available, accessible and free to humanitarian organizations and volunteers across the globe. As director of crisis mapping at the nonprofit technology company Ushahidi and co-founder of the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF), he is helping revolutionize the effectiveness of relief efforts worldwide. He is bringing the worlds of technology and humanitarian response together for the first time, connecting social media and satellite imagery with the U.N., U.S. Marines and Coast Guard, World Health Organization, Amnesty International and other groups that can mobilize help when the worst crises hit. When crises occur, the SBTF gathers messages, photos, video, and high-resolution satellite imagery and integrates them on a live Ushahidi map, reflecting what is happening, what is most urgently needed and precisely where. The global network has mobilized aid response in Haiti, Japan, Libya and many other countries.

Archaeologist and Egyptologist Sarah Parcak (Ph.D.) is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She pioneers the young field of satellite archaeology, using futuristic tools to unlock secrets from the past and transform how discoveries are made. She is the first Egyptologist to use infra-red satellite imaging to identify previously unknown archaeological sites. With satellite imagery, she's found 17 potential new pyramids, more than 1,000 tombs and over 3,000 ancient settlements. She looks forward to using data gleaned from the new technology to answer some of archaeology's biggest questions, such as why did Egypt's great pyramid age end? By revealing thousands of new sites, satellite maps show trends and population shifts that scientists can relate to other important facts such as global climate events. Parcak feels her most important contribution is writing the first methodology book on satellite archaeology, which will allow the next generation of students to advance the new field.

Data scientist Jake Porway (Ph.D.) is a matchmaker. He sees social change organizations working to make the world a better place, collecting mountains of data, but lacking skills and resources to use that information to advance their mission. He sees data scientists with amazing skills and cutting-edge tools, eager to use their talent to accomplish something meaningful, yet cut off from channels that allow them to do so. He sees governments ready to make data open and available, but disconnected from people who need it. For Porway, it's a match waiting to happen and the reason he founded DataKind (formerly Data Without Borders). It connects nonprofits, NGOs and other data-rich social change organizations with data scientists willing to donate time and knowledge to solve social, environmental and community problems. Ultimately, he wants to build a globally connected network of dedicated experts who can be deployed at a moment's notice to tackle any big data science task worldwide.

Guerrilla geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison brings the spirit of adventure to geographic education, allowing people to see the world -- and the field of geography -- in new and surprising ways. Guerrilla geography challenges people, especially children, to explore the world around them, engaging in creative play, making new discoveries and forming community connections. Through technologies that allow users to share their experiences digitally, guerrilla geography not only educates but also inspires young people to explore their world in ways that stretch their minds and bodies, and motivates them to educate others and take action in their own communities. His Urban Earth films demonstrate guerrilla geography in action. He has walked across 13 cities, taking photographs every eights steps and editing them to create films to reveal new perspectives on how to experience cities. His program/website, Mission:Explore, and a series of award-winning kids' books of the same name encourage youth to go on adventures to learn about the world.

Archaeologist Jeffrey Rose (Ph.D.) is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham, U.K., where he specializes in stone tool technology and Arabian prehistory. He stresses an inter-disciplinary approach to solving puzzles in prehistory, weaving together different fields of study and encouraging dialogue between disciplines. To that end, he dabbles in an eclectic mix of related subjects such as genetics, palaeoanthropology, rock art, geoarchaeology, underwater archaeology and even a bit of mythology. He resides in Muscat, Oman, where he runs the Dhofar Archaeological Project, an investigation of human dispersals into the Arabian Peninsula. His unusual and unexpected discoveries in southern Oman challenge the currently accepted theories about when early humans may have left Africa, who those pioneers were and what route they took on that first stage of their journey to every corner of the Earth.

Engineer and renewable energy advocate Dr. Ibrahim Togola is bringing power to the forgotten corners of western Africa. Electric power. Economic power. Community power. He is the founder of the Mali-Folkecenter Nyetaa (MFC), an NGO that is Mali's leading energy-environment organization. Its work also includes policy and advocacy work; microfinance and agribusiness development; and myriad projects that inspire sustainability and entrepreneurship in remote communities. Today, MFC's renewable energy programs power 23 areas and emphasize technical training at the village level to keep systems maintained and operated locally. Solar and biofuel energy have transformed homes, schools, health centers, drinking water supply, public squares and farming throughout the country. Partnerships with companies and banks, along with MFC microfinance programs, have generated jobs, funding and hands-on business development training and created more than 20 new companies in Mali's renewable energy and agroforestry sectors.

Archaeologist Daniel Torres Etayo is a Ph.D. student at the University of Havana. His fieldwork spans thick jungles, hidden caves, dune-swept beaches and ocean depths -- all within the archaeologically rich, yet largely unexplored, borders of Cuba. The societies he investigates are as diverse as his sites, ranging from 13th-century aboriginal Tainos to 19th-century New Yorkers. His passion for exploring, communicating discoveries and training new talent have been responsible for putting Cuban archaeology on the map. He hopes his discoveries will inspire a new generation of young Cubans to explore and protect their heritage. One key project transports him to the tribal life of 13th-century Cuba as he explores massive ceremonial centers to gain new understanding of local history, customs and world views, and learn how native Taino societies were changed by European contact. Another exploration takes him into a spectacular 19th-century shipwreck more than 30 feet below the sea, one of many wrecks off Cuba's coast.

National Geographic's Emerging Explorers are part of the Society's Explorer Programs, which include 14 Explorers-in-Residence and 18 National Geographic Fellows.


About National Geographic

The National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to "increase and diffuse geographic knowledge," the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 400 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit

NOTE: For fuller bios of the 2012 Emerging Explorers, go to

For images of the 2012 National Geographic Emerging Explorers, contact Carol King Woodward at or Laura Wallach at

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