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UBC researcher donates MacArthur ‘genius’ grant to biodiversity training program


UBC zoologist Sarah Otto, Canada Research Chair in Theoretical and Experimental Evolution and director of UBC’s Biodiversity Research Centre.

September 9, 2013

UBC zoologist Sarah Otto is using the second installment of a MacArthur 'genius grant' to help connect young research talent with agencies tackling conservation and biodiversity-related issues.

Otto’s gift of $100,000 will launch an endowment to provide on-going support for the university’s Biodiversity Research: Integrative Training and Education (BRITE) internship program.

"The world’s biodiversity is in crisis, making it urgent that we connect our students with the pressing problems being tackled outside of academia," says Otto. 

"Many agencies need research and scientific expertise, yet often have extremely limited budgets. BRITE allows them to engage scientists they would not normally be able to afford, while allowing biodiversity scientists to apply their research skills and augment their knowledge."

BRITE was developed by UBC researchers Kai Chan, Mary O’Connor and Otto, and has already placed nearly 30 graduate students in paid research positions with non-profit and governmental agencies nationally and internationally. It received initial seed funding from a one-time federal grant in 2009.

This is the latest in a series of donations that Otto has donated to bolster causes promoting the appreciation, preservation and research of biological diversity. Last year, Otto donated the first $100,000 installment of her MacArthur grant to preserve fragile habitats in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia. In 2008, she donated the funds from an EWR Steacie Prize to UBC's Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

Canada Research Chair in Theoretical and Experimental Evolution and director of UBC’s Biodiversity Research Centre, Otto was one of 22 recipients of the MacArthur Fellows grants in 2011, receiving $500,000 over five years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

To ensure the continuation of the BRITE internship program, UBC has established an endowment, enabling members of the public to join Otto in supporting the program. To support BRITE, visit:

UBC Biodiversity Internship Endowment

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