RENCI People Interview with Cindy Van Dover

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Watch entire video or click on any question below:

Q: You are an internationally respected deep-sea biologist and a world-class oceanographer, what led you to choose this career path?

Q: Did you have mentors who helped you early on?

Q: In 1990, you became the first woman to pilot an ALVIN, a three-person submarine for deep-sea exploration. How challenging were your first voyages?

Q: Your research takes you to places on the sea floor where no one has been before. How exciting is that for you?

Q: Tell us about a discovery you made while on the sea floor.

Q: Why is it important to understand the deep-sea environment?


Cindy Lee Van Dover is a deep-sea biologist with an interest in the ecology of chemosynthetic ecosystems.  She began her work in this field in 1982, joining the first biological expedition to hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise.  After earning a master’s degree in ecology from UCLA in 1985, she continued her graduate education in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Biological Oceanography.  There she joined numerous expeditions and published on diverse topics such as reproductive strategies and recruitment of vent invertebrates, vent food webs, and taxonomic descriptions of new species.  In 1989, she described a novel photoreceptor in a vent invertebrate, which led to the discovery and characterization of a geothermal source of light at vents and investigations of its biological significance.

On receiving her Ph.D. in 1989, Van Dover joined the group that operates the deep-diving submersible ALVIN.  She qualified as pilot in 1990 and was pilot-in-command of 48 dives. She now serves as chair of the oversight committee for a new, state-of-the-art human-occupied deep-submergence vehicle.  Her work with ALVIN has taken her to nearly all of the known vent fields in the Atlantic and Pacific, as well as to deep-water seamounts, seeps, and other significant seafloor features.  Her research focuses on deep-ocean exploration and the study of biodiversity and biogeography of invertebrates from chemosynthetic ecosystems. She has published more than 90 articles in peer-reviewed journals and is an active participant and Chief Scientist in NSF-and NOAA-sponsored field programs to hydrothermal vents and other chemosynthetic environments.

Van Dover is a Fulbright Scholar and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is currently the Harvey W Smith Professor of Biological Oceanography in the Division of Marine Science and Conservation of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, where she serves as Chair of the Division and Director of the Marine Laboratory.