Tierney Thys

National Geographic Explorer, marine biologist, filmmaker, science media producer, cofounder of Around the World in 80 Fabrics

Tierney Thys is a National Geographic Explorer, marine biologist, filmmaker, science media producer, TED All-star and past member of the TED braintrust. With anthropologist Carroll Dunham she is cofounder of Around the World in 80 Fabrics (ATW80Fabrics)–a traveling museum exhibit weaving people and fibers together for the planet. ATW80Fabrics features a teaching quilt of swatches sourced from across the planet in a search for solutions to our growing fast fashion plastic microfiber pollution. The project has launched on social media (Instagram ATW80Fabrics) and will formally debut in 2023. Dr. Thys is a trained marine biologist. After graduating in 1988 from Brown University in Rhode Island with a degree in biology, she became a certified seaplane pilot and helped build a winged submarine at Deep Ocean Engineering in California with Sylvia Earle before attending graduate school at Duke University in North Carolina. Combining her interests in biology and engineering, she earned a doctorate in zoology studying the biomechanics of fish swimming muscles under Stephen Wainwright. She been intrigued with the fish form ever since. Since 2000, Thys and her colleagues have been traveling the world (most recently Galapagos and Bali) studying giant ocean sunfish (mola). Though ocean sunfish grow more than ten feet (three meters) long and weigh over 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms), they remain a somewhat elusive species. By placing satellite tags on molas and collecting tissue samples for genetic analysis, Thys and her colleagues are uncovering their secrets and recently published the first book on the Molidae group. A collaboration with mola experts worldwide and coedited with J. Houghton and G. Hays, the book is entitled The Ocean Sunfishes:Evolution, Biology and Conservation and is accompanied by a virtual symposium where. More information at www.oceansunfish.org. Thys served as the Director of Research for Sea Studios Foundation (1998-2008), a non-profit production company dedicated to inspiring public understanding of science, technology and stewardship of the environment through entertaining and innovative media. The company co-produced National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth project (www.pbs.org/strangedays) and The Shape of Life (www.pbs.org/kcet/shapeoflife, TED talk). With members of the Plankton Chronicles (Christian and Noe Sardet and Sharif Mirshak she wrote and produced several films for TEDed including The Secret Life of Plankton and How Life Begins in the Deep Sea and The Complicated Journey of Marine Plastics. With Christian Sardet, she is currently writing a TEDed film called The Plastivores which features plastic-consuming microbes. She has also written additional TEDed films including: How to Play Dead, Why are Shark so Awesome and How did life come to land. Thys currently serves on the science advisory board of Think Beyond Plastic, The Plastic Pollution Coalition and a judge for Conservation X’s Microfiber Challenge. In an effort to better understand our powerful relationship with the nature world and how to catalyze long-term stewardship behavior, Thys is currently exploring the neuroscience of nature and the brain—a discipline she calls Neurobiophilia. With an Innovations Grant from National Geographic, she worked with co-investigators Dr. Nalini Nadkarni and Tan Le exploring the brain’s response to nature imagery using mobile EEG headsets and eye-tracking devices. She and Nadkarni have also investigated the physiological effects of placing nature imagery and soundscapes into nature-deprived settings such as jails in Utah. Her ongoing prison work with Nadkarni includes the“Blue Room” at Snake River Correctional Institute in Oregon which was named one of the top inventions of 2014 by Time Magazine. Dr. Thys consults for numerous film and conservation groups. She served as the Daily Explorer in the online game, Animal Jam for 7 years . Animal Jam features a virtual world where 6-11 year olds become an animal and learn about the animal kingdom. It has more than 130 million registered players and is available in multiple languages in 120 countries. Thys serves as a National Geographic expert on several NG expeditions yearing including sailing the Caribbean, student marine bio camp in Baja, Belize or Bali, family and adult trips to Galapagos, Antartica as well as Around the World by Private Jet. Her greatest aim is to raise awareness of Earth’s natural resources and in particular the health of the spectacular life within the deep blue, and the pivotal role our ocean plays in the livelihood of all humanity.