Some people long to have arenas or events named after them.
Amos Winter, a professor at Indiana State University, now has an organism named after him – Syracosphaera winteri, a new species of algae. It is a single-celled creature called a coccolithophore, living on the surface of the ocean.
“It’s quite an honor,” said Winter, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Systems at ISU.
He first observed its existence in 1976 when he was a graduate student in oceanography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He found a specimen full of thimble-shaped coccoliths while surveying the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea.
But one specimen was not quite enough for naming privileges.
More than four decades later, additional complete specimens were first found and described by Winter’s colleague, Miguel J. Frada and his team while working at the same marine station as Winter.
They named it after winter: Syracosphaera winteri.
“Not everyone is blessed, able, blessed … to have something named after them,” Winter said in an interview from his office in the ISU Science Building. “It’s done in our profession… when you describe a new species.”
Species can also be named after other elements, such as a city, country, or geographic location. Also, a species name can be changed, so it might not be an eternal thing, he said.
To add to its newfound fame, the World Register of Marine Species, or WoRMS, has chosen Winter’s Basket Coccolithophore or Syracosphaera winteri as one of the top 10 marine species of 2021.
The World Register describes the new species as extremely rare and extraordinary and writes:
“These beautiful structures are built by microscopic plant-like organisms called coccolithophores. Coccolithophores are single-celled creatures that live in large numbers in surface ocean waters all over the world. part of the world’s oxygen, and continually build detailed geometric structures called coccoliths from calcium carbonate.”
Winter is passionate about studying coccolithophores and enthusiastically shares images of various species on a computer screen.
“Look at this. It’s beautiful,” he said, pointing to one of them and its intricate geometric formation. “What has always fascinated me is that they produce these complex skeletons.”
A top scientist, he also has a sense of humor. “Have you ever heard of the coccolithophore? Now you know. Spread the word,” he says.
Coccolithophores “are extremely important organisms,” he said.
They are important in the recycling of carbon dioxide. “If we didn’t have them, there would be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” he said. They also provide the world with oxygen.
To identify them, the coccolithophores must be magnified approximately 1,000 times and can be viewed at the Scanning Electron Microscope Laboratory located in the Department of Earth and Environmental Systems at ISU.
Winter, who has been at the ISU since August 2015, teaches oceanography, astronomy and climate change.
He lived in many places around the world, as his father worked for El Al Israel and other airlines. Winter’s parents were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who met in Palestine; they then moved to Switzerland, where he was born.
He has taught at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez.
Winter’s research means he is all too aware of the impact of climate change. “If we don’t do something now, we are doomed,” he said. “I don’t understand why people don’t act immediately. They will wait, wait, wait until it’s too late.”
He lives less than a mile from the university and always bikes to campus.
“We know exactly what we need to do,” he said. “But because we want comfort, we kill the earth.” People need to change their habits and live in a more environmentally friendly way, he says.
Jennifer Latimer, Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Systems, said of Winter’s recognition, “It’s always an honor to have an organization named after you. I think it’s great for Dr. Winter to be recognized in this way.”
She added that “it is a tribute to his contributions to the field of micropaleontology (the study of microscopic fossils) and paleooceanography (the study of ancient oceans).
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or email@example.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.