Texas A&M Galveston student heads to prestigious Woods Hole

"The exploration of underwater caves is not without danger."  Much of it remains a mystery because it is one of the last unexplored frontiers of the planet.  David Brankovits is a PhD student from Budapest, Hungary in the Marine Biology program at Texas A&M University at Galveston.  But in a few weeks Brankovits will be departing Galveston to explore underwater caves as a member of the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass. where their motto is "Understanding the ocean for our planet and our future."

Brankovits has been working at Texas A&M Galveston this summer before he starts a post-doc position at Woods Hole.  Naturally, Brankovits has been a high-achieving student and has received fellowships and recognition from various prestigious groups such as Texas Sea Grant, the Southern Association of Marine Laboratories and the Cave Conservancy Foundation.

"I'm a scientist and a professional diver," said Brankovits.  "I began my PhD in 2011 after I received a Fulbright Scholarship that allowed me to initiate my studies in the United States.  Prior to my big move from Europe to Galveston, I earned a Master's Degree in Biology and worked for a nature conservation project in Budapest."

Texas A&M Galveston offered Brankovits a unique opportunity.  "I was able to use my experience in scuba diving to investigate the ecological and biogeochemical significance of flooded cave systems and to closely work with the U.S. Geological Survey to further develop national and international connections with scientists at other institutions," said Brankovits.  "Dr. Tom Iliffe's lab at Texas A&M Galveston was the only one that could offer me this unique combination, so Texas A&M Galveston was my first choice when I got the Fulbright Scholarship."

Brankovits' work has been featured in national and international magazines such as National Geographic and an award-winning nature documentary film called "Budapest Inferno, the Secret of the Molnar Janos Cave", about underwater cave systems underneath his hometown of Budapest.

When he was young, he developed an interest in natural sciences.  "I suppose I was not the kind of kid who is afraid of the dark, the water or strange animals. Therefore, my father enjoyed introducing me to the fascinating beauties of nature that I have never stopped exploring since he first took me diving in the sea or caving underground.  This fascination has led me on a journey that involved getting my scuba diver certificate at the age of 12, participating in my first scientific diving project as a teenager, becoming a professional dive instructor by the age of 21 and starting to explore underwater cave systems and their ecosystem function as a young scientist."

Brankovits says he and his wife have enjoyed their time in Galveston.  "For us, the coastline, the community, the farmer's market, the laidback pace of the town, art shows and the multitude of events are all reasons to like Galveston," says Brankovits.  "The local places and events allowed us to meet new friends and interesting people like nurses, doctors, artists and astronauts.  Moreover, as a young scientist, I'm interested in disseminating my research to the public.  A collaboration with Moody Gardens Aquarium allowed me to pursue my interest in public outreach on a higher level.  Galveston is a cool place, one just has to look for its hidden treasures!"

At Woods Hole he plans to continue exploring the ecological importance of environmentally significant organic compounds like methane in subterranean coastal environments and expand his studies to other globally important habitats like deep sea ecosystems.  "I'm looking forward to this next experience at Woods Hole that I hope will serve as a stepping stone for my long term career plans to become a full-time scientist at an academic or research institution," said Brankovits.