Keck Professor Branwen Williams Recognized

By Erin Matheson '18
Staff Writer

Prof. Williams was recognized by the Oceanographic Society. Photo courtesy of Scripps College.

Prof. Williams was recognized by the Oceanographic
Society. Photo courtesy of Scripps College.

Earlier this year, Keck Professor of Environmental Science Branwen Williams was recognized for her success by the Oceanographic Society. Professor Branwen Williams was one of many different women highlighted in the issue, which acknowledged and recognized the minority that is women in STEM.

The Oceanographic Society’s volume, “Women in Oceanography: A Decade Later” includes a personally written autobiography highlighting Williams and her accomplishments and successes before and during her time at Keck Science. The Oceanographic Society asked the women who had been featured in their first issue on women in 2005 to recommend two other women to be included in the 2015 issue. For the 2015 issue, Dr. Adina Paytan at UC Santa Cruz invited Professor Williams to contribute.  

Professor Williams has been crucial in her involvement and contribution to the Keck Science Department’s Environmental Analysis (EA) program. The interdisciplinary and still evolving 5C program has courses on Environmental Science, and Professor Williams was the first faculty to offer courses in Oceanography and Global Climate Change in the Department. She is currently co-teaching Environmental Science, Policy, and Politics in an effort to bridge the gap between learning about environmental science-- usually the problems that humans are causing, such as deterioration to the environment-- and the policy that aims to address these problems.

“I incorporate students into all my research, giving students the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge, original research that is directly relevant to understanding the impact of humans on the environment,” said Williams. “Undergraduate research was critical in shaping my own career path, and it means a lot to me that I can mentor students now in such a potentially impactful way.”

At the shared W. M. Keck Science Center, Professor Branwen Williams is conducting research this year with ten students from Scripps, Pitzer and Claremont McKenna. The students range from first year students to seniors and are from a variety of disciplines including environmental science, biology, chemistry, physics and policy. Williams and her lab were recently funded by the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation for projects to understand environmental variability in the Arctic. The scientists use a specific type of algae as a tool. The algae document changes in the environment around them into their skeleton as they grow.

“We can create records of these environmental changes such as warming temperatures or acidifying oceans by analyzing different properties of the algal skeleton,” said Williams. “These algae are a powerful tool to do this, because they can grow for a long time – hundreds of years – and they grow in very cold temperatures where not a lot of information is already available.” This summer, Williams will go to the Canadian Arctic for the first time to collect algae specimens for this project.  

The students helping Williams are doing amazing research. According to Williams, “One Scripps student presented her senior thesis at an international scientific meeting in San Francisco this past December and another Scripps student participated in fieldwork on a boat over spring break in the Channel Islands.”

Williams said, “I am always looking for interested and motivated students to join my lab.” The opportunity to work with nationally recognized faculty on interesting projects is available to Scripps students.

To see William’s full autobiography, visit