DURHAM, N.C. – Duke University has awarded a Distinguished Professorship – one of the highest academic honors it bestows on faculty – to Daniel Rittschof, professor of marine science and conservation at the Nicholas School of the Environment.  

Rittschof was named the Norman L. Christensen Professor of Environmental Sciences.

Rittschof with students. (Credit: Duke Marine Lab)

He is the first faculty member to hold the Christensen Professorship, which is named in honor of the Nicholas School’s founding dean.

Widely cited for his groundbreaking work on the behavioral, physiological and molecular responses of marine organisms to chemical signals, Rittschof has been on the Duke faculty for more than 30 years, almost all of it spent in the Nicholas School’s Division of Marine Science and Conservation at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C.

He has published more than 230 peer-reviewed scientific papers, including seminal studies on barnacle settlement and biofouling; nontoxic anti-fouling compounds; environmental toxicology; the ecology and reproduction of benthic gastropods; and the movement and habitat use of blue crabs.

“You’d be hard pressed to name a faculty member whose research has more successfully extended from basic questions to practical applications,” said Jeffrey Vincent, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School. “In addition to advancing our fundamental understanding of chemical communications and biological interactions in the marine environment, Dan’s work has had broad and beneficial impacts for blue crab and other crustacean fisheries, oyster fisheries, and for the anti-fouling interests of the military and boat owners, among others.”

In recognition of his contributions to science, Rittschof has received numerous awards and honors, including research appointments from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chemical Ministry of China, the National University of Singapore and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

He has also received numerous honors from Duke recognizing his commitment to teaching. These include the 2008 Robert B. Cox Distinguished Teaching Award, and being named a Bass Fellow by the university in 2009.

“Dan’s an exceptional teacher, advisor and mentor – full of enthusiasm and ideas – whose contributions to undergraduate education, in particular, are without peer,” said Andrew Read, director of the Duke Marine Lab.  “Undergraduate students at the Marine Lab refer to him fondly as ‘Dr. Dan’. He is a true icon. Generations of students have benefitted from working with him in the lab and, particularly, in the field. His field trips, particularly the night walks in coastal habitats, are the stuff of legend.”

“I’m honored that my long-time friend and colleague Dan Rittschof, who was so instrumental in launching our school’s master’s program in Coastal Environmental Management, will be the first faculty member to hold this new professorship,” said Christensen. “He truly exemplifies excellence in education.”

Duke confers Distinguished Professorships annually on faculty members who have achieved distinction as leading scholars in their fields. The appointments are based on the recommendation of Provost Sally Kornbluth and approval by Duke’s Board of Trustees.

Rittschof is the sixth Nicholas School faculty member awarded a Distinguished Professorship since 2016.

Richard Di Giulio, Andrew Read, Drew Shindell, Martin Smith and Curtis Richardson also have been awarded the honor.