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A UT professor has joined the ranks of explorers who landed on the moon, studied chimpanzees, and led Antarctic expeditions.

Annette Engel is seen in a sulfur-gas filled cave in Wyoming. Photo by Megan Porter
Annette Engel is seen in a sulfur-gas filled cave in Wyoming. Photo by Megan Porter

Annette Engel, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences, was recently elected as a fellow of the Explorers Club, an international, multidisciplinary professional society that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural, and biological sciences.

Engel’s research has taken her deep underground for a better look at cave systems and to gator-filled marshes to better understand the microbiology of alligator guts.

“The earth and planetary sciences department was very excited to learn that Dr. Engel was made a Fellow of the Explorers Club,” said Larry McKay, head of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “The frontiers of science have changed since the days of Arctic exploration and travel to the moon, but Dr. Engel’s research into the biogeochemistry of cave systems and salt marshes demonstrate that groundbreaking scientific inquiry is often carried out by professors and students with a strong spirit of adventure.”

The Explorers Club is committed to the advancement of field research and promotes  understanding the importance of maintaining the instinct to explore. Founded in 1904, members have included Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest; Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon; Mary Leakey, a paleoanthropologist who, along with her husband Louis Leakey, discovered a skull fossil in Africa that is an ancestor of apes and humans; and Jane Goodall, who pioneered one of the best-known studies of primates.

Explorers Club fellowships are reserved for individuals who have distinguished themselves through their contributions to scientific knowledge in the field of geographical exploration or allied sciences.

“I believe that each of us has an instinct to explore, but few of us follow that instinct professionally,” Engel said. “Ever since I was young, my life has been consumed by science and research that requires exploration of unknown places, from caves to mountaintop hot springs to coastal salt marshes. As a professor, I am already an ambassador of science to hundreds of students a year that pass through the University of Tennessee.

“Now, because the Explorers Club celebrates accomplishments and scientific contributions to exploration completed by individuals around the globe, I hope to serve as a role model for young students, particularly women, to explore and study the natural world regardless of their gender, where they come from, or where their explorations may take them.”

Engel’s current research projects include studying coastal marshes to examine how microbes and ecosystems were impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, discovering bacterial associations with marine clams, uncovering new animals from caves in eastern Tennessee, and determining how microbial communities affect the geochemistry and geology of caves and groundwater.

Before coming to UT, Engel held dual appointments as an assistant and associate professor of geomicrobiology in the departments of geology and geophysics and biological sciences at Louisiana State University.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,

Annette Engel (865-974-9777,