Enrichment Arts & Culture

New alga species named after poet Amanda Gorman

“At a point when it was sometimes difficult to find meaning in our research, Amanda Gorman gifted us with this incredibly uplifting poem that gave us a renewed sense of hope in the lab.”
Amanda Gorman speaking at Biden inauguration
Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration. The Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

Story at a glance


  • Researchers didn’t initially set out to discover a new species and ultimately came upon it by accident.

  • The species was discovered at a time when national morale was low due to the COVID-19 pandemic and January 6th insurrection, they said.

  • The team was moved by poet Amanda Gorman’s delivery of “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration.

National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who rose to fame after reciting her poem, The Hill We Climb at President Biden’s inauguration last year, can now add another item to her long list of accolades, albeit one of a more scientific nature. 

Upon discovering a new species of microscopic green alga in central New York state, a group of researchers from the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) struggled to land on an appropriate name.

The discovery came at a time when the nation was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and January 6 insurrection at the United States capitol. 

But the reading of Gorman’s poem during the Biden inauguration sparked inspiration for the researchers. 

“At a point when it was sometimes difficult to find meaning in our research, Amanda Gorman gifted us with this incredibly uplifting poem that gave us a renewed sense of hope in the lab,” said Dr. Fay-Wei Li, assistant professor at BTI in Ithaca, New York, in a press release.

Thus, researchers dubbed the new species Gormaniella terricola, after Gorman. Although they are not plants, green algae are similar as they use light energy to create sugars. 


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According to Li, the idea came from a graduate student in his lab, Tanner Robinson, who explained the name didn’t originate from political leanings. 

“It was just a really great poem. It was about rising above challenges, and we had had a very challenging year,” Robinson said.  

The team discovered the species – described in a new report in the American Journal of Botany – by accident after member Jessica Nelson conducted research on hornwort plants in search of symbiotic cyanobacteria. 

As the alga wasn’t the initial goal of the investigation, “it would have been easy to just call it contamination and throw it out, but curiosity drove us to take a closer look,” said Robinson. 

“We discovered a new species by accident, basically by just paying attention to what we were looking at. I think we could learn a lot more things by just paying more attention.”