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David Mucciarone, ‘heart and soul of the lab,’ wins 2021 Amy J. Blue Award

David Mucciarone, lab manager in the Department of Earth System Science in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, is among this year’s winners of the Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

Over the last two decades, legions of students, faculty and postdocs have relied on Dave Mucciarone as a trusted partner, whether they’re working inside a campus lab or doing fieldwork on research trips to the Chagos Archipelago, Palau, Patagonia or Antarctica.

David Mucciarone (Image credit: Robert Dunbar)

As the lab manager in the Department of Earth System Science, Mucciarone oversees two laboratories: the Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry Shared Facility, which is available to all on campus, and the Stanford Stable Isotope and Carbon System Laboratory of Professor Rob Dunbar, whose research focuses on polar ice sheets, carbon cycling in marine ecosystems, coral ecosystems and tropical climate change.

Mucciarone – pronounced MOOCH-ar-OH-nay – is among this year’s winners of Amy J. Blue Awards, which honor staff who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

In the lab, he keeps instrumentation well maintained, outfitted and available for research. He also builds custom instruments for lab and field applications. He trains students in best practices in using stable isotope mass spectrometers – and helps them with their research.

Mucciarone also mentors teenagers, including high school students who contact him directly and those who take part in Stanford Earth’s Bright STaRS Program.

In the field, Mucciarone designs experiments, sets up equipment and manages labs in remote settings in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans – on beaches, rafts, small boats and large research vessels – and on the sea ice in Antarctica and in the Southern Ocean.

During the summer, he works with undergraduate interns eager to join faculty research projects through the Stanford Earth Summer Undergraduate Research Program and has been a co-leader on overseas seminars in Patagonia run by the Bing Overseas Studies Program.

Students, faculty and staff who nominated Mucciarone for the award described him as a mechanical genius, a troubleshooter extraordinaire, a stellar teacher and a passionate scientist who shares his expertise and knowledge with anyone who comes into the labs.

They praised his demeanor – always calm, even in the face of potentially large issues – and his ability to work with scientists of all ages – from high school interns to PhD candidates.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Dave is the living, beating, heart and soul of the lab,” said Andrew Hennig, a PhD student in Earth system science. “He creates and maintains a culture of commitment to data quality. He also fosters a culture of openness to exploring different ideas and to embracing all of the people who come into the lab.”

One of three Amy J. Blue winners

In addition to Mucciarone, this year’s other Amy J. Blue winners are Cathy Garzio, vice chair and director of finance and administration in the Department of Medicine at the School of Medicine and Cheryll Ramirez, director of operations in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

They will be honored in a ceremony at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 12, in the courtyard of Lagunita Court, located on Santa Teresa Street opposite Roble Field. The ceremony will also recognize three staff members who won 2020 Amy J. Blue Awards and were honored last year during a virtual event. President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will present the awards.

Intrigued by the ocean

Mucciarone, who grew up near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was intrigued by the ocean from a young age; he was 12 when his uncle taught him scuba diving.

Later, he earned certification as a NAUI Dive Master and AAUS Scientific Diver and now serves on the dive control board overseeing Stanford’s Scientific Diving Program at Hopkins Marine Station.

Mucciarone got his first lab experience as an undergraduate student studying marine science at the University of South Carolina. He worked in a stable isotope lab and after graduation became lab manager – the same type of lab he manages at Stanford.

After earning a master’s degree in marine science, he took a job at Rice University, where he worked for 10 years as the lab and expedition manager for Rob Dunbar, then a professor of geology and geophysics, and now the W.M. Keck Professor of Earth Science at Stanford.

Mucciarone discovered the thrill of fieldwork during his first expedition to Antarctica some three decades ago, he managed a lab – which had been towed into position by a massive track vehicle – conducting research on sea ice.

“I feel so alive when I work in the field because I get to bring all of my experience and skills into play,” said Mucciarone, who worked his way through high school and college working in construction and doing equipment maintenance.

“The icing on the top is having the opportunity to mentor students and postdocs and work with excellent principal investigators on and off campus. Designing experiments, setting up equipment and managing labs in remote settings on rafts, beaches, small boats and research vessels – and underwater – is what I was meant to do.”

Scientist and educator

Dunbar said Mucciarone is an invaluable member of Stanford’s Climate Change and Ocean Chemistry Group.

“Having been in the field with Dave more than 35 times, ranging from long Antarctic deployments on icebreaking ships to trips to remote field stations on tropical atolls – always with students and postdocs, I can attest to the strong role he plays in educating, training and making sure all of our students get home safely, and with the data and samples they need for dissertations and undergraduate research projects,” Dunbar said.

“Dave’s work on behalf of my program has been exemplary, but that is only a small part of why I nominated him for an Amy J. Blue Award. Rather it is his contributions to research and teaching at Stanford – and to the many hundreds of users that have passed through our labs and field facilities over the past 24 years. He is truly exceptional. He cares deeply about Stanford and its scientific and educational communities.”