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Matthew Sullivan receives 2023 Distinguished Scholar Award

May 10, 2023

Matthew Sullivan receives 2023 Distinguished Scholar Award

Matt Sullivan

Matthew Sullivan, PhD, professor of microbiology in the College of Arts and Sciences with a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Geodetic Engineering, has earned The Ohio State University 2023 Distinguished Scholar Award. Senior leadership in the Enterprise for Research, Innovation and Knowledge surprised Sullivan with the honor at a recent faculty meeting.    

The ‘microbiome’ is increasingly recognized to drive Earth’s ecosystems, including in humans, but it does so under constraints imposed by viruses. Sullivan pioneered viral ecogenomics as a means to study viruses in complex communities via quantitative viral metagenomic sample-to-sequence pipelines, new approaches to link viruses and hosts, and developing iVirus, a community-available analytical platform. In the oceans, Sullivan has vastly expanded our understanding of the global virosphere, established automatable scalable taxonomic approaches, and elucidated how ‘wild’ viruses evolve and even metabolically reprogram the most abundant photosystems on the planet. Outside the oceans, Sullivan has adapted these toolkits for use in extreme environments, soils and humans with each new environment leading to myriad discoveries that place viruses at the core of these microbial ecosystems. 

“His prolific research program not only stands out in the United States, but around the world,” said Peter Mohler, interim executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge. “His work is establishing Ohio State as a leader in microbiome science.” 

"Thank you for coming to Ohio State, you and Ginny have enriched and strengthened the department and university,” said Kurt Fredrick, microbiology department chair, also recognizing Sullivan’s wife, Virgina Rich, who runs her own successful research group in the microbiology department.   


In her nomination letter, Susan Olesik, dean of mathematical and natural sciences wrote: “Since joining Ohio State his work has had a near exponential climb in its contributions to science, numbers of publications and overall contributions to society….He is bold in the research projects that he undertakes and exceedingly careful in analysis of the data, and the results that he describes.” 

After spending seven years at the University of Arizona, Sullivan began his work as an assistant professor at Ohio State in 2015. He is the founding director of the Center for Microbiome Science which encompasses more than 100 microbiologists from nine colleges across campus. His honors include election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, selection as a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator, a Kavli Fellow and a Beckman Mentor. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Marine Science at Long Island University, his master’s degree in biology from Queens University of Belfast, and his doctorate in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution joint program in Biological Oceanography.  

The Distinguished Scholar Award is among the highest annual honors awarded at Ohio State. The university-level award honors six faculty members who demonstrate scholarly activity, conduct research or creative works that represent exceptional achievements in their fields and garner distinction for the university.    

Award recipients are nominated by their departments and chosen by a committee of senior faculty, including past award recipients. Distinguished Scholars receive an honorarium and a research grant to be used over the next three years. Learn more about previous Distinguished Scholar Award recipients.     

Quotes from Sullivan’s nomination:  

“He now has a lot to bring to the community, and as his CV shows he is not lacking ideas and energy to do so. He has a very serious publication record, wonderful teaching engagement and on top of this he is a wonderful colleague, clever, warm and helpful,” Eric Karsenti, founder and director of the Tara Oceans Consortium 

“Since joining OSU in 2015, Matt has been one of its star performers, a notable feat given the quality of researchers at OSU. He has consistently published high impact pioneering research in top tier journals on virus (phage) microbiology, including the co-evolution of microbes and their phages, and the impact of marine phages on microbe-mediated global biogeochemistry,” Philip Hugenholtz, Australian Centre for Ecogenomics. 

“Throughout his career, including while I was a postdoctoral scientist in his group, Professor Sullivan has always emphasized the need to empower students and early-career scientists in his group with all the tools they will need to be successful. This starts by establishing open and frequent communication about the career path of the trainee, and designing a corresponding strategy in terms of projects, publications, and roles in the group in collaboration with the trainee,” Simon Roux, DOE Joint Genome Institute.  


Matthew Sullivan | 2023 | Distinguished Scholar Award | Ohio State (osu.edu)