MSC History


The Marine Science Center – formerly known as the Marine Sciences Institute – first opened its doors in 1967 after Northeastern University acquired 24 acres of coastal property at East Point from the Town of Nahant. Professor Nathan “Pete” Riser, commonly known as “Doc”, was appointed the first director, serving until 1984. Early research at the MSI initially focused on invertebrate zoology and marine ecology. A Northeastern professor from 1957 until his death in 2006, Riser is credited with founding not only the MSI, but also the graduate program in Biology at Northeastern, and was known for his dedication to the advancement of the field through the teaching and mentoring of students throughout his career.

In 1985, Doc Riser retired from his position as director of the MSI and was succeeded by Ken Sebens. Riser remained at the MSI doing research until the early 2000s. The first annual Riser Lecture was held in 1985 to celebrate the contributions of Doc Riser, an event that has taken place annually in all but two years since its inception. It is currently the premier academic lecture of the year at the MSC.

Major upgrades to the MSI began in 1985 during the tenure of Ken Sebens, including the start of renovations to the Murphy Bunker to expand research space. It was also under Sebens’ tenure that the East/West Program began (now known as the Three Seas Program). Sebens brought his own passion and expertise to the facility, including the addition of an active nearshore research program, which continues today.

Under Sebens’ tenure, the MSC partnered on several projects with Nahant SWIM, Inc. (formerly known as Safer Waters in Massachusetts) to increase awareness of water quality issues in the North Shore area. In 1990, a research vessel, the R/V Mysis, was acquired and used for research and outreach programs until it was retired by the Coast Guard in 2003. In 1991, Sebens announced his departure from the MSC, and Professor Joe Ayers was appointed as Director.

During his directorship, Ayers oversaw several expansions to the MSC. In 1993, the addition of a classroom, library, and office wing to the original Edwards building was completed. Building off the renovations launched during Sebens’ tenure, the Frank Massa Marine Systems Engineering Laboratory was launched in the Murphy Bunker. Ayers continued to serve as MSC director until 2001, after which Professor Edward Jarroll took the helm and served as Director until 2007.

In 2007, Professor Gwilym Jones assumed the Directorship until 2009. During his tenure as MSC director, and with his expertise in vertebrate zoology, Jones transferred an extensive collection of nearly 40,000 marine and terrestrial mammal specimens from Northeastern’s main campus. Many of these were displayed in the Murphy Bunker for research and outreach purposes until Jones’ retirement in 2013. Following this, the extensive vertebrate collection that Jones had curated was relocated to several museums and research institutions around the country to further their use for research and educational purposes.

Following Jones’ tenure, Geoffrey C. Trussell was appointed Director in 2009. Since this time, Trussell has overseen institution-wide changes and far-reaching improvements. In 2011, and in response to the Center’s expanded focus, the MSC’s institutional affiliation shifted from the Biology Department to Earth and Environmental Sciences, which was renamed as the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences.

With significant University investment and a major research infrastructure grant from the National Science Foundation, Trussell oversaw considerable renovations to the Edwards Building and Murphy Bunker between 2011 and 2014, including the creation of new office and laboratory space, a new state-of-the-art seawater delivery system to supply experimental tanks and aquaria with seawater, a 1,400 sq. ft. greenhouse, an experimental tank farm, an ocean acidification array, and significantly enhanced infrastructure to the Murphy Bunker including a new classroom, emergency backup power and proper ventilation to support the increased research and teaching activity in this facility. Additionally, academic offerings were expanded including the creation of the PhD program in Evolutionary, Ecology, and Marine Biology and the creation of undergraduate and graduate cohorts in the Three Seas Marine Biology Program. In 2012, University launched its Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative, and soon after announced that the Ocean Genome Legacy, previously part of New England Biolabs, would become a University research center based at the MSC. Click here to read about the MSC’s facilities.

These infrastructural improvements have been accompanied by over a dozen faculty hires to date in areas including climate change science, biogeochemistry, marine ecology, fisheries science, ecological and evolutionary genomics, ecological modeling, and social-ecological coupling.