What do Northeastern alumnus Austin Gallagher, NBA superstar Stephen Curry, and Oscar-nominated actress Brie Larson have in common? They have all been named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Class of 2016, a prestigious list comprising 600 of the nation’s brightest young entrepreneurs, breakout talents, and change agents in 20 different sectors.
Gallagher, a conservation biologist and social entrepreneur, was selected as one of this year’s top 30 scientists under 30 years old.
He is the second person from Northeastern to receive the honor in the past two years. Satoru Emori, a postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of electrical and computer engineering associate professor Nian Sun, was named to the list in 2015 for developing new ways to control magnetism with electricity.
Gallagher, MS’10, is the founder and president of Beneath the Waves, a nonprofit dedicated to conducting conservation-based research, and the author of more than two dozen studies on the role of predators in marine, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems. His research has been published in leading journals, BioScience and PLoS ONE among them, and his work has attracted coverage from a range of media outlets, including Scientific American and The Huffington Post. He is a visiting scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland, an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, and a post-doctoral fellow at Carleton University in Ottawa. In short, he is a man of many hats, a global citizen with a wide range of expertise.
“I’m developing nodes around the world where I can grow my network and have an impact that goes beyond the typical one-institution format,” he explains, noting that Beneath the Waves is active in 12 countries worldwide. Being honored by Forbes, he adds, represents the start of the next chapter of his professional life. As he puts it, “I have a new decade in front of me and a lot of goals, from developing my brand to expanding my research efforts.”
What Gallagher calls his “burning passion” for the natural world dates back to his childhood, when he would spend long hours solving one animal-themed jigsaw puzzle after another. “I’ve always loved trying to piece together our understanding of animals,” he explains, “and the fact that they have to kill to live is one of the most regal things about them.”
As he got older, his interest in nature only grew. He earned his bachelor’s in biology from the University of Loyola Maryland and then enrolled in Northeastern’s Three Seas master’s program, an intensive 15-month journey that allowed him to live, study, and work with world-class faculty in three seaside locations.
While he designed his own experiments and explored radically different habitats, Gallagher the student transformed into Gallagher the scientist. He developed more confidence, he says, and honed his scientific writing skills, learning the ins and outs of the craft. He even caught the entrepreneurship bug, founding Beneath the Waves.
“The faculty in the program pushed me to work hard and showed me that my research could make a difference,” he recalls. “You cover a lot in a short period of time, forcing you to learn quickly.” As part of the program, Gallagher worked as a research assistant at the New England Aquarium, where he focused on tracking the stress levels of sharks. “I got my first taste of research at the aquarium,” he says, “and I never looked back.”
Today Gallagher’s future is bright, full of new challenges and opportunities. Beneath the Waves is expanding, he says, recently forming a partnership with Google and Oceana to track sharks in real-time. “We need conservation heroes,” he explains, “and I know my work can be used to change the world.”