Erinn Muller’s coral and disease research is catching the attention of many in Florida, the U.S. and around the world.
The science director of Mote’s Elizabeth Moore Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration on Summerland Key, Muller was in her office when she received an email from the National Science Foundation that she had been chosen for a prestigious presidential award.
In early July, President Donald Trump announced the recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. In Florida, Muller was among eight scientists to receive the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government. The award is given to outstanding scientists and engineers who are setting out on their independent research careers and exude promise for leadership in science and technology.
“My National Science Foundation program officer, Dan Thornhill, recommended me for the award,” Muller told the Weekly in a recent interview. “He sent me an email with a link to a press release and asked if I knew anything about it. I clicked on the link and saw the press release for the award with my name listed. That was the first I heard about it.”
“We (Dan and I) both got really excited together, being hopeful it was real,” she continued. “A couple hours later, I got an email from the National Science Foundation saying indeed I received it.”
On Wednesday, Muller traveled to Washington, D.C. with family for the awards ceremony, set for Thursday, July 25 at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall. Muller, who began her career at Mote in 2012, said getting the news was “unreal.”
“I knew over the last two years I was being considered for the award. I knew how competitive it was and never got my hopes up,” she said. “It was an out-of-body experience when I found it was actually true.”
Muller is one of the primary responders who are dealing with the devastating coral disease in the Florida Reef Tract. Her goal is determining how coral health and disease change under climate change and ocean acidification conditions.
She admits there’s much work ahead to understand the mechanisms leading to compromised coral health to prevent future disease outbreaks. But working with Mote Marine Laboratory, she said it provides her with the support needed for essential research. Through the National Science Foundation, Muller has worked since 2015 to study resiliency in staghorn coral, a threatened species.
“Water temperatures are going to keep increasing, and pH will continue to decrease until we have societal change that addresses these issues,” she said. “My research focuses on what makes certain corals special and able to survive these threats.”
Muller said she’s very grateful for the award and recognition. She said she’s received a lot of support along the way, from her parents, who told her to follow her dreams, to advisors and teachers and Mote staff.
“It’s a long list,” she said. “Mote has supported my research in so many ways from the financial support to get me the results for my research and the people helping me with day-to-day tasks.”
More information about Muller’s work and Mote Marine Laboratory are at mote.org.