Spotlight: Neil Banas

Research Scientist

Neil BanasNeil Banas is a biophysical ocean modeler working on a range of problems from local water quality to the response of subarctic zooplankton, and the fish stocks that rely on them, to climate change. His current projects take place in Pacific Northwest coastal waters and Puget Sound, the Bering Sea, and Mathemagical Funland. There are two main themes running through them: first, given that climate variability and trends can push on a marine ecosystem by a dozen separate pathways simultaneously, which of those pathways are the crucial ones? Second, what is the role of biological complexity (diversity, adaptability, behavior, life history) in large-scale patterns in the ocean? He spends a lot of time chasing after plankton with mathematical models, but secretly is rooting for the plankton to escape.

Neil joined JISAO as a Senior Research Scientist in 2012, after 14 years in other corners of the university. He first came to UW and Seattle in 1998 as a grad student in physical oceanography, doing small-boat fieldwork in Willapa Bay in an effort to determine how tidal physics and phytoplankton dynamics controlled the food supply for aquacultured oysters there. In addition to a good recipe for Oysters Rockefeller, this project left him with curiosity about larger-scale processes on the Pacific Northwest coast and more complex planktonic interactions, and he switched to ecosystem modeling in a postdoctoral project on Columbia River plume dynamics, also in UW Oceanography. A few years at the Applied Physics Lab as a regional modeler and engaging discussions with the Climate Impacts Group eventually led him to JISAO's door.

Before coming to UW, Neil spent three years at the University of Colorado in Boulder getting a masters degree in Religious Studies (his undergrad degree was a double major in physics and religion). He focused on scientific and cross-cultural perspectives on human-animal relations, and his masters thesis, "Quiet Creatures: A Summer on Long Island," contains one of the few extended descriptions of calanoid copepods to be found in the academic religious studies literature. His humanities work continues to inform his undergraduate teaching: he has been developing courses like "Humans and Other Animals," "World Religions and the Environment," and "Northwest Coastal Stories: Turbulence in Science and Culture" for the UW Program on the Comparative History of Ideas (CHID) and Honors Program since his days as Neil's artworka grad student.

Neil's partner Emily, a composer who teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, also works on cross-cultural animal studies, but this is pretty much a coincidence.

Neil's interests in turbulent complex systems and animal behavior collide in two other areas of his life also: a sideline in computational art, a.k.a. surrealist earth science, which led to a solo gallery show entitled "Rain and Flow" at the Blindfold Gallery in spring 2012 (as well as the piece "Rain" which hangs in Wallace Hall to recognize scientists doing outreach work for JISAO); and chasing around his one-year-old son Milo, a very complex animal indeed, who splashes enthusiastically in the bath but doesn't know much about plankton. Yet.