January 10, 2024
Staff Accomplishment

Desert Tortoise Council Recognizes Cyler Conrad with Award

PNNL Earth scientist specializing in radiological signatures in wildlife receives the Robert C. Stebbins Research Award

Cyler Conrad is a researcher at PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Earth Scientist Cyler Conrad received the Robert C. Stebbins Research Award from the Desert Tortoise Council. 

(Portrait by Andrea Starr| Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) 

The Desert Tortoise Council presented Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Earth Scientist Cyler Conrad with the Robert C. Stebbins Research Award for analyzing the accumulation of radionuclides in tortoise shells.

Research described in the selected paper, “Anthropogenic uranium signatures in turtles, tortoises, and sea turtles from nuclear sites,” identifies legacy uranium signatures in scute growth rings of turtles, tortoises, and sea turtles from 20th century nuclear testing and processing sites.

“Using turtles and tortoises as environmental sentinels, Dr. Cyler Conrad and his team provided long-sought answers to the legacies of radionuclides in diverse environments. This elegant paper provides an important scientific advance and is deserving of the Robert C. Stebbins Research Award for the best paper,” said Kristin H. Berry, chair of the Awards Committee for the Desert Tortoise Council—a 49-year-old organization.

The Desert Tortoise Council promotes conservation of the desert tortoise in the deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico.

The award was also presented to Conrad’s coauthors from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, Galapagos Conservancy, State University of New York, Syracuse, the University of Washington, University of Hawai’i (Bishop Museum), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, University of Kansas (Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute), and University of Utah (Natural History Museum of Utah). It is named after Robert C. Stebbins of the University of California, Berkley—often considered the “father of western North American herpetology” and was established to recognize an individual with outstanding research contributions to understanding desert tortoises or desert ecosystems and their biota.

“This award is important to us because it speaks to the impact of our work outside of the very specific and complex field of nuclear fallout and nuclear contamination,” Conrad said. “We used a novel technique to explore what isotopes occur within turtles, specifically desert tortoises, to look at the potential contamination in their shells over time. We’re quite honored that the Desert Tortoise Council recognized the importance of our work more broadly for desert tortoise biology and ecology.”

Conrad will present a keynote address at the 49th Annual Meeting and Symposium of the Desert Tortoise Council, happening on February 21 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In this PNNL Science & Technology Community Seminar held October 10, 2023, Cyler Conrad discussed the bioaccumulation, retention, and signatures of anthropogenic radionuclides (especially uranium) in a variety of chelonians from nuclear sites. The research featured in "Uranium Signatures in 20th Century Turtles, Tortoises, and Sea Turtles from Nuclear Sites" was funded by Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Video: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

“When we started this project, we anticipated there would be public interest because we were working with turtles and studying nuclear fallout, both of which are important to the public,” said Conrad. “But I’ve been quite shocked and surprised with the global attention it has received. It speaks to the interdisciplinary nature and broad impact of our work.”

Conrad has over a decade of experience in archaeological and environmental compliance and research. His work at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory focuses on conducting environmental-based research and supporting environmental analyses and reviews for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other federal agencies.