Nat Geo Experts
Outstanding. Encouraging. Inspiring.
National Geographic’s researchers, explorers, and storytellers have been inspiring people for more than 125 years. They’ve pursued their dreams, become leaders in their fields, and are excited to share their stories and knowledge with students. National Geographic experts join most of our programs. As you explore together, they’ll share their insights and experiences, and inspire you with their passion for the work they do and the places you’ll discover. Below, meet the experts who will join our trips this summer.
Marine ecologist and National Geographic grantee Pelayo Salinas de León is a senior marine scientist for the Charles Darwin Foundation focusing on the conservation of sharks and manta rays, fisheries management, and marine ecosystem services. In addition to fulfilling his childhood dream of conducting research on the creatures of the Galápagos Islands, Pelayo has contributed to research and conservation projects across the globe—including Spain, New Zealand, Indonesia, Cuba and Colombia. As part of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Initiative, Pelayo surveyed the marine species of the Galápagos Islands, which helped inform the government’s decision to create the new marine sanctuary around Darwin Island and Wolf Island, and revealed that the area is home to the world’s largest shark biomass. Pelayo will join the Ecuador & the Galápagos expedition.
Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Jay Dickman has worked in photojournalism for more than 35 years, covering topics as diverse as the war in El Salvador, the Olympics, national political conventions, six Super Bowls, the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Jay has lived for three months in a Stone Age village in Papua New Guinea and spent a week under the Arctic ice in a nuclear attack sub on assignments for National Geographic magazine. He has also published five books and numerous articles for National Geographic Traveler, LIFE, Condé Nast Traveler, Time, Sports Illustrated, and Forbes. A long-time resident of the American West, Jay is excited to share the region’s nature and culture with students in Yellowstone National Park.
Photographer and Editor Sarah Polger spends her days crafting inspiring digital stories for National Geographic’s Travel and Adventure websites, managing National Geographic’s photography contests, and running the @NatGeoTravel Instagram account. Her work has taken her around the globe—from Sri Lanka to Botswana. Sarah looks forward to working with students to craft photographic stories about their Colorado adventures.
For over a decade, Krista has worked as a photographer and photo editor for National Geographic Traveler. Her assignments for the magazine have taken her around the world—from documenting a surfer’s paradise in Costa Rica to capturing images of traditional Zulu farms in South Africa. For Krista, the camera is a powerful tool that helps her understand new cultures, meet locals, and explore the natural world. Krista is also a photography instructor, and has taught multiple workshops focused on capturing the spirit of the American West’s people, culture, and wild places. Krista will join the entire Yellowstone photography workshop.
National Geographic grantee Shannon Switzer Swanson is a marine ecologist and photojournalist who loves spending time in the water. After an increasing number of her friends became sick from surfing in polluted water off the California coast, Shannon received a National Geographic grant to visually document how human behavior on land impacts people and wildlife in San Diego’s watersheds, and become a passionate advocate for coastal conservation. Shannon has also worked as a photojournalist with National Geographic Travel as their digital “Curious Traveler,” highlighting health and wellness, as well as eco-friendly and sustainable destinations. Shannon is currently a doctoral student in Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources pursuing studies in community-based marine conservation in developing island nations in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Her research examines the intersection between culture and conservation, and she recently received a second National Geographic grant to document the global aquarium fish trade. Shannon will join the June 30 departure of the Australia Expedition at Cape Tribulation.
Geographer and environmental educator M Jackson can often be found exploring some of the world’s most remote Arctic environments. M’s research is focused on glacial environments and climate change, and she recently spent a year in Iceland studying how climate change is affecting communities near the fishing village of Höfn. In 2015, she published her first book, While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change, which blends her own personal history with climate science. M’s research has taken her around the globe—from Alaska to Turkey—and she has spent over 10 years as a glacier guide and naturalist. M will join the July 14 departure on the Iceland high school expedition.
Filmmaker and scientist Birgit Buhleier played an integral role in the evolution of National Geographic’s Crittercam, a video camera system that has provided fascinating insights into the daily lives of hundreds of species. She has personally deployed more than 100 Crittercams on a broad range of animals, including many that are native to Alaska. Birgit will join the Alaska middle school expedition.
Archaeologist and National Geographic grantee Matthew Piscitelli specializes in the role of religion in the development of early civilizations across the globe. He has led excavations in Peru, Bolivia, and Greece. His doctoral research was focused on the use of modern technology to reconstruct ancient rituals at some of the earliest religious sites along the north central coast of Peru. Currently, Matt manages one of the National Geographic Society’s grants programs, working with researchers focused on anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, geography, geology and paleontology. Matt will join the Peru expedition.
Conservationist and wildlife tracker Boone Smith has traveled the world- from Alaska to Afghanistan- helping scientists study big cats. After decades of experience working as a biologist, he has developed some of the best and safest techniques for attaching radio collars to large mammals so we can learn more about their lives and reduce human-predator conflict. Boone is a host on National Geographic WILD, starring in the popular Secret Life of Predators series and Man vs. Lion, and has assisted National Geographic magazine photographers in the field. Currently, Boone is working in Alaska’s backcountry, searching for lynx dens and studying the population and health of kittens. Boone will join the Alaska high school expedition.
David Guttenfelder is a National Geographic Photography Fellow focusing on global geopolitics, conservation, and culture. He spent 20 years as a photojournalist for the Associated Press, during which he was based in Nairobi, Abidjan, New Delhi, Jerusalem, and Tokyo, covering news in more than 75 countries. David is an eight-time World Press Photo Award winner and a seven-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He engages with more than 950,000 Instagram followers daily, and was named Instagram Photographer of the Year by TIME magazine. David will join the entire Tokyo photography workshop.
National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee Florian Weise has spent over 11 years on the African continent conserving endangered species. His work helping to reduce conflicts between Southern Africa’s large cats, like cheetahs and leopards, and local farmers has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Africa Geographic, and the Financial Times London. Florian has combined his passion for the outdoors with research in the Serengeti, the Okavango Delta, the Namib Desert, and at the N/a’an Ku Sê Carnivore Conservation Centre, where he will join the Namibia expedition.
Author, wildlife photographer, and cinematographer Matthias Breiter has spent most of the past 30 years researching the daily lives and habits of black, brown, grizzly, and polar bears. He has authored 14 books, and his articles and photography have appeared in.National Geographic magazine, BBC Wildlife, and Outdoor Photographer. His documentary film work has appeared on the National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and the BBC. Matthias’s most recent documentary, Polar Bear Summer, has won international awards and was nominated for an Emmy. Matthias will join both departures of the Canadian Arctic expedition.
Melissa Farlow is known for her personal approach when photographing people, and has worked on over 20 projects for National Geographic in South America, Quebec, Alaska, the Alps and throughout the American West. From an early age, Melissa had a passion for horses and she recently co-produced Wild at Heart, a young adult book about mustangs and the teens who are trying to save them and preserve America’s wild horse legacy. Melissa was awarded a Pulitzer Prize with the staff of the Louisville Courier-Journal and her work has been published in National Geographic magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, LIFE, and in over seventy books. Melissa has photographed throughout Ireland on a book assignment for TIME, and looks forward to joining the the Ireland Expedition in Galway and the Aran Islands.
India-based photographer, author, filmmaker, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Sandesh Kadur uses images, both still and video, to expose the need for conservation and encourage protection of the world’s biodiversity. With subjects ranging from king cobras to clouded leopards, his documentary films have appeared worldwide on National Geographic, the BBC, the Discovery Channel, and elsewhere. His photographs have appeared in numerous books and magazines, and his photographic book about India’s Western Ghats were part of the submission that helped convince UNESCO to name the area a World Heritage site. Sandesh’s many awards include the Nature’s Best photography award, the International Conservation Photographer award, two Green Oscar nominations at the Wildscreen film festival, and the 2013 North American Nature Photographers Vision Award. Sandesh will join the India expedition.
Writer and globetrotter Andrew Evans has arguably one of the coolest jobs out there: he’s an explorer wandering the globe in pursuit of authentic travel experiences, while using the internet, digital mapping and social media to make his experiences interactive online. Andrew has reported live from glaciers, jungles, mountain summits, and a camel’s back, from all seven continents, and in more than 40 languages. A contributor to National Geographic Traveler and television host for both the National Geographic Channel and CBS, Andrew is the author of five books and the winner of numerous journalism awards. Andrew will join the June 28 and July 12 departures of the Bhutan expedition.
National Geographic grantee Greg Goldsmith is an ecologist studying the impacts of climate change on the world’s tropical forests. Over the past decade, his research has taken him to the furthest corners of Brazil, Panama, Mexico, Singapore, Costa Rica and Peru. Along the way, Greg has become a leading expert in using innovative media to share science and promote conservation. His web-based learning platform, Canopy in the Clouds, allows users to virtually explore Costa Rica’s cloud forests, while learning earth and life sciences through immersive media. Greg Goldsmith will join the Costa Rica middle school expedition.
You can often find adventurer and visual storyteller Robbie Shone capturing images of the world’s most remote places, where natural light doesn’t reach and the art of photography is at its most challenging. Over the past ten years, Robbie has lit up and captured stunning images of the deepest, largest, longest and even smallest cave systems known. Robbie’s National Geographic assignments have taken him to the remotest areas of Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan and the Alps, and his work has been published in National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Science. When not on assignment, Robbie spends his time chasing adventures in the heart of the Alps, and has photographed local Alpine cultural events, rock climbers on Via Ferratta, tobogganing competitions, and the first Youth Winter Olympic Games. Robbie will join Switzerland & France expedition.
National Geographic Emerging Explorer Katy Croff Bell uses technology to investigate the depths of the ocean. Over the past fifteen years, she has participated in or led more than 25 oceanographic and archaeological projects around the world. Katy’s current work involves the utilization of telepresence technology on ocean exploration projects for remote science and education. She is vice president for exploration & research at the Ocean Exploration Trust, and chief scientist of the exploration vessel, Nautilus. Katy works with a large team to implement state-of-the-art technology on expeditions to remote areas of the world’s oceans, including the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. Nautilus expeditions are shared online so that anyone in the world can share in the incredible discoveries the team makes. Katy is a 2014 MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow and proud alumna of MIT, where she received her SB in ocean engineering, before completing her doctoral work at the University of Rhode Island.
National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Urban Agriculturalist Caleb Harper believes the future of agriculture lies in urban farms, and uses the technologies of computing, architecture, and engineering to explore and develop new food systems. A research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab, Caleb directs the Open Agriculture Initiative, which uses existing urban real estate and soil-less gardening to grow plants faster than a traditional farm 365 days a year (even during New England winters!), and produces food that is fresher and cheaper than what is available in grocery stores. His work has been featured by TIME, WIRED, The Economist, the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers, the World Urban Forum, USAID and TED.
Photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale’s work has taken her to more than 90 countries—she’s lived in mud huts and war zones, contracted malaria, and donned a panda suit, all in keeping with her philosophy of “living the story.” Early in her career, Ami focused on conflict photography, and her first National Geographic magazine story documented the last rickshaws in Kolkata, India. More recently, Ami has turned her lens to wildlife stories, including efforts to reintroduce white rhinos and pandas to the wild. From 1997 to 2000, Ami lived in Prague covering politics and news from Eastern Europe for newspapers and magazines around the world including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Newsweek. Ami will join the entire Prague photography workshop.
Discover the marine life of Belize with biologist and filmmaker Greg Marshall. Greg invented the Crittercam, a device that can be attached to an animal to study its behavior. Greg’s Crittercam has enabled him to document life in the oceans and on land from the perspective of more than 80 species including blue whales, black turtles, emperor penguins, great white sharks, leopard seals, grizzly bears, lions, and—most recently—giant oceanic manta rays. Greg will join both departures of the Belize middle school expedition.
Photojournalist, filmmaker, and adventurer Ulla Lohmann has sailed around the world, explored volcanoes in Vanuatu, and traversed the African continent using only biodiesel. She spends much of her time working with indigenous cultures in Australia and the South Pacific. Based in the German Alps, she is a regular contributor to the National Geographic Channel and National Geographic magazine (France, Germany), and has appeared in several television programs for National Geographic and the BBC. Most recently, Ulla published a photographic book with National Geographic Books documenting a year-long journey hiking, biking and skiing Italy’s Dolomite mountains. Ulla will join the June 26 and July 12 departure of the New Zealand expedition.
Born and raised in Barcelona, Tino Soriano divides his work between photojournalism and travel photography. A frequent contributor to National Geographic Books, he has photographed eight National Geographic Traveler guidebooks including South Africa, Scotland, Spain, Rome, Madrid, Portugal, Naples, Tuscany and Sicily. Tino has worked on three television documentaries for National Geographic’s domestic and international channels, and played a lead role in the documentary Andalusia: The Awakening of the Senses. Tino has received multiple prizes for his photographic work, including a World Press Photo Foundation first prize and a grand prize in UNESCO’s Humanity Photo Awards. His photography has appeared in National Geographic magazine, Smithsonian magazine and The New York Times. Tino will join the entire Barcelona Photography Workshop.
National Geographic Emerging Explorer and grantee Dr. Tierney Thys is a marine biologist and filmmaker studying some of the ocean’s largest animals, including the giant ocean sunfish. She has led and participated in research expeditions worldwide from Alaska to the Galápagos, Indonesia, and Africa. Tierney works with all ages to promote ocean conservation through numerous creative means: from exploring how nature imagery impacts the brain to filmmaking to serving as a digital explorer in National Geographic’s online world, Animal Jam. This summer she looks forward to sharing the wonders of the Coral Triangle with our students. Tierney will join the June 24 and June 30 departures of the Bali expedition.
Award-winning Australian photographer Jason Edwards has been at the forefront of natural history photography for two decades. A passion for animals and the environment defines his extensive career. Since embarking on that career at the Royal Melbourne Zoo, Jason has produced images for everything from environmental campaigns to Hollywood blockbusters. His work has appeared in hundreds of publications including National Geographic magazine, BBC Wildlife, Australian Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Condé Nast Traveler, and The New Yorker. Jason is also the host of the National Geographic Channel’s Pure Photography, and an author of science education books. Jason will join the July 19 departure of the Australia Expedition at Cape Tribulation.
Photographer and climber Tommy Heinrich was born and raised in Buenos Aires and has traveled the world combining his passions for photography and climbing the highest and remotest mountains. Tommy’s photographs have been published in magazines throughout the world, and his assignments for National Geographic magazine include documenting a Polish climbing team’s attempt to summit Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat in winter and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner’s history-making ascent of K2, which made her the first woman to have climbed all 14 of the world’s highest peaks without support. An accomplished alpinist in his own right, Tommy has completed several first ascents, including being the first Argentinian to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Tommy will join the June 28 depature of the Argentina & Chile expedition
Meet Massimo Bassano, whose work has been published in National Geographic Traveler and on nationalgeographic.com. Massimo has developed quite a following teaching National Geographic photography workshops in Tuscany and Venice as well as leading expeditions around the world. His September 2011 story in National Geographic Traveler, “Italy’s Forgotten Towns,” had him traveling thousands of miles through the southern Italian countryside. His acclaimed photography book The Color of Silence details the 12 weeks he spent in a little-known Italian monastery. Massimo will join the June 27 departure of the Italy & Greece Expedition.
Tim Weed is an award-winning author, outdoorsman, and independent explorer. A founding director of National Geographic Student Expeditions, Tim has lived and worked in more than twenty-five countries on every continent except Antarctica. In the 1990’s, Tim was among the first to bring American students to Cuba since the Revolution, and has created and led programs for writers, artists, and musicians in countries around the world. His articles on travel, history, outdoor adventure, and the writing craft have appeared in various magazines and journals, and he is the winner of a Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award, and a Solas Best Travel Writing Award. His first novel, Will Poole’s Island, was released in 2014 and was named to Bank Street College of Education’s list of the Best Books of the Year. Tim will join the July 1 and the July 12 departures of the Cuba expedition.
National Geographic grantee and geographer Joel Hartter has spent more than a decade working in communities around national parks. From the American west to Uganda’s Albertine Rift, he is on the frontlines of conservation, working with local people who are facing the challenges of poverty and climate change, while also protecting some of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. He uses geospatial technologies, forestry and social science to understand how people’s relationships with parks can also impact health, climate, wildlife and livelihoods. A professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, Joel is excited to welcome students to campus and share his knowledge of Colorado’s wild places.
Following a 3-month adventure through Mongolia, French photographer Matthieu Paley’s first job was an expedition for National Geographic Adventure magazine in Bhutan, which took him to the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. While living in Hong Kong for nine years, Matthieu shot stories throughout China, including a story about disco in Chengdu. Most recently, Matthieu traveled the globe shooting a storying on the evolution of diet for National Geographic magazine. Matthieu’s work has been published in numerous other magazines including Geo, Newsweek, TIME, Outside, and Le Monde. Matthieu will join the China expedition.
Originally from Italy, Gianluca Colla has traveled and photographed around the world, from the Arctic Circle to Africa’s deserts and from the Amazon to the streets of Edinburgh. He has covered a diverse range of topics including the secrets of the longest-living centenarians in the world, a lost Da Vinci painting, and hidden mummies in Sicilian crypts. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including National Geographic magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Gianluca will join the June 24 Italy middle school expedition, the June 27 Iceland high school expedition, and the July 18 Italy & Greece high school expedition.
Environmental scientist, writer, and Web producer Ford Cochran descended into ice caves and an active volcano on his first visit to Iceland while on assignment for National Geographic Television. Ford was principal contributing writer for the Society’s Historical Atlas of the United States and has written for National Geographic magazine. He helped launch nationalgeographic.com in 1996 and has been an editorial director and daily blogger for the website. In 2015, Ford completed a 36-lecture course on the geology of America’s national parks for National Geographic and the Great Courses. Ford will join the June 25 departure of the Iceland high school expedition and the June 29 departure of the Iceland middle school expedition.
For more than a decade, Erika Larsen has used photography to learn intimately about and document cultures that maintain strong connections with nature. She has followed Sami reindeer herders in the Scandinavian arctic and explored the significance of the horse in Native American culture for National Geographic magazine. Her work has been shown in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the Swedish Museum of Ethnography, the Ájtte Sámi Museum and as part of National Geographic’s Women of Vision photography exhibit. Erika received a Fulbright Fellowship to study the North Sami language and recently published her first book of photographs, Sámi, Walking With Reindeer. Erika recently spent a year photographing the people of Yellowstone National Park for the May 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine. Erika will join the entire Yosemite and San Francisco photography workshop.
National Geographic Emerging Explorer and grantee David Gruber is a marine biologist and ocean explorer who searches the undersea world for bioluminescent and biofluorescent marine animals. On land, he designs submersibles and cameras to better capture and understand the secret “language” of shining colors and patterns that many marine creatures use to communicate, interact, and avoid enemies. David is excited to join our students in Belize, where he first developed his interest in glowing marine creatures. David will join the July 1 departure of the Belize expedition.
National Geographic grantee and community conservationist Charles Trout has spent most of his life in and around the protected areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania. He is the co-founder and director of programs for the African People & Wildlife Fund, which through its Northern Tanzania Big Cats Conservation Initiative works to save Tanzania’s most threatened lion population as well as important populations of cheetahs and leopards. In partnership with National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, Charles launched the Build a Boma campaign, which has crowd-funded innovative solutions to protect African livestock and wildlife. Charles will join the Tanzania expedition.