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In Memoriam: Craig Cary

Photo courtesy of the University of Delaware Archives and Records Management

Campus remembers professor emeritus of marine biology and biochemistry who studied microbial life in extreme environments

Craig Cary, professor emeritus of marine biology and biochemistry in the University of Delaware School of Marine Science and Policy, died Feb. 29, 2024. He was 69.

Dr. Cary devoted his career to the study of microbial life in extreme environments, including deep-sea hydrothermal vents and Antarctic soils.

Craig Cary in a 1997 photo

He joined the Delaware faculty in 1994. He and his colleagues made national headlines in 1998 when they discovered that hydrothermal vents harbor the most heat-tolerant animal on earth—the Pompeii worm. His is believed to be the first report of a higher-order life form that is capable of surviving sustained, long-term exposure to temperatures up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 2008, he led a research expedition studying hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor in environments that included scalding heat, high pressure, toxic chemicals and total darkness. The scientists were joined virtually by more than 20,000 students from schools in the United States, Aruba, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain and New Zealand, who were able to participate via an interactive website, where blogs, dive logs, video clips, photos and interviews were posted daily.

After retiring from UD in 2010, Dr. Cary became a professor in the School of Science at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, while also continuing to work part-time at UD.

Throughout his career, he took part in more than 29 deep-sea expeditions to hydrothermal vents, 45 dives in research submersibles and spent 18 seasons conducting groundbreaking research in Antarctica with over 22 deployments. His last visit to Antarctica was in November 2023.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), part of the International Science Council, posted a tribute to Dr. Cary, calling him “a passionate mentor, uplifting many with his encouragement, guidance and support.”

A memorial tribute posted by the University of Waikato notes that he “made discoveries that fundamentally changed how the scientific community views microorganisms in Antarctica.”

A graduate of the Florida Institute of Technology, he received his master’s degree from San Diego State University and his Ph.D. from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. After four years of postdoctoral work at Oregon State University, he came to UD.

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