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The Team



John Sparks, Curator and Curator-in-Charge, Department of Ichthyology, American Museum of Natural History

John Sparks travels the world in search of bioluminescent and biofluorescent marine organisms. His research focuses on the evolution and diversification of the bacteria-driven bioluminescent signaling system in ponyfishes—small, silvery fishes restricted to the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific that have structurally complex light organs surrounding their throats—as well as the evolution of specialized hearing in marine and freshwater fishes. Dr. Sparks’ recent fieldwork includes biotic surveys and inventories of both freshwater and nearshore marine fishes in Madagascar, the Indo-Pacific region, South America, the western Atlantic, and the Caribbean. He is a professor in the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the Museum and an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University. Dr. Sparks received his M. Sc. degree in biology from the University of Michigan in 1997 and his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan in 2001. He joined the Museum in 2002.


Marine biologist David Gruber is a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History.

David Gruber, Associate Professor, Baruch College, City University of New York; Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History

David Gruber is a marine biologist who investigates both shallow and deep coral reef ecosystems around the globe. His research focuses on bioluminescence and biofluorescence, and his laboratory has discovered more than 40 novel fluorescent proteins from marine creatures, using both traditional and next-generation sequencing approaches. He is currently funded by the National Science Foundation to engineer a remotely operated vehicle, DeepReef-ROV, designed specifically to investigate mesophotic coral reefs, most of which remain heavily underexplored. Dr. Gruber received his Ph.D. in biological oceanography from Rutgers University in 2007. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University, working to develop fluorescent proteins from the ocean into cell-based sensors for cancer drug development. Dr. Gruber is also a visiting scientist at Brown University and a research associate at the Museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. He has Master’s degrees in coastal environmental management from Duke University and in journalism from Columbia University. He is committed to communicating science to the public, and his writings have appeared in The New Yorker, Nature Medicine, and The Best American Science Writing. Follow Gruber on Tumblr for more information about bioluminescence research:


Michael Lombardi holds a contract appointment as the dive safety officer for the American Museum of Natural History.

Michael Lombardi, Dive Safety Officer, American Museum of Natural History; Project Coordinator, Stephen J. Barlow Bluewater Expedition, July 2014

As a diving contractor and technologist, Lombardi has bridged scientific and commercial diving to provide creative underwater problem-solving for both academia and industry. He has participated in hundreds of field programs, from inshore construction throughout New England to supporting science beneath the Antarctic ice and exploring the far reaches of mesophotic coral ecosystems at the edge of a new-frontier limit at depths exceeding 400 feet. Lombardi holds a contract appointment as the dive safety officer for the American Museum of Natural History, provides consulting on special projects for the Diving Division of the J.F. White Contracting Company, and is the co-chair for the Marine Technology Society’s Diving Committee. In 2003, Lombardi founded Ocean Opportunity Inc., a grassroots 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization to apply his model for exploration to numerous programs. In 2012, he procured R&D space, later named the Lombardi Undersea Resource Center, for his creative and technical work in advanced and experimental diving. For more about diving, follow Lombardi on Twitter at @oceanopp or on his blog:


Vincent Pieribone, Professor, Yale University School of Medicine; Fellow, The John B. Pierce Laboratory; Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History; Chief Scientist, Stephen J. Barlow Bluewater Expedition, July 2014

Vincent Pieribone is a leading expert in the discovery, isolation, and application of fluorescent proteins from marine organisms to better understand mapping and signaling within the brain, particularly in non-invasive ways. This work is on a trajectory to improve our understanding of how the brain communicates via its complex network of neurons and could ultimately benefit those with spinal cord injuries. Dr. Pieribone received a B.A. in biology and chemistry from the New York University College of Arts and Sciences in 1986, and a Ph.D. in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology from New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1992. From 1990 to 1992 he was a National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Fellow at the Nobel Institute of Neurophysiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Dr. Pieribone completed postdoctoral work at The Rockefeller University in New York from 1992 to 1995 and became an assistant professor there in 1995. He joined the Pierce Laboratory and Yale University in 1997.

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