By Emily Williams
Dr. Sarah Parcak, UAB’s modern-day Indiana Jones, is the recipient of the 2016 TED Prize, following in the footsteps of Bono and Bill Clinton.
The award, announced Nov. 8, includes a $1 million grant to launch a high-impact project guided by her “world-changing wish.” In addition, Parcak will have the opportunity to call on the aid of professionals in the TED community worldwide. Her project will be announced Feb. 16 at the TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Sarah, our campus will be eagerly and proudly watching you on that stage and we look forward to the world-changing things you will do with this great opportunity,” University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts said at a press conference Nov. 9.
Parcak is the first participant in the TED Fellows Program to receive the prize and works as an associate professor in UAB’s Department of Anthropology. She received her graduate degree from Yale University and her doctorate from the University of Cambridge, one of the oldest universities in the world.
She received the TED Prize for her innovative work using satellite infrared imaging technology to uncover ancient archeological sites. According to Dr. Robert Palazzo, dean of UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences, Parcak recently has gained international attention for satellite mapping the entirety of Egypt and identifying 17 potential pyramid sites, 1,000 tombs and 3,100 settlements that previously had been unknown. She published the first textbook on satellite archaeology and uses her research to aid the Egyptian government in its efforts to protect ancient sites from looters.
“We are obviously quite proud of her achievements and look forward to a continued impact, not only in her own field, but in our broader understanding of civilization,” Palazzo said.
Parcak said she knew when she first visited UAB for an interview that the university would do great things, which aided in her ability to start the lab where she conducts her research.
“I think, right now, we are at a tipping point with our cultural heritage around the world,” Parcak said. “I feel so honored to have this opportunity to be able to work with the world and, hopefully, do something about it. I am but one of many people around the world that are doing work protecting archeological sites.”
Parcak said the TED Prize is in honor of those who have supported her and those who have lost their lives protecting ancient sites.
In an interview with WBHM’s Dan Carsen, Parcak said her colleague Khaled Asaad, chief archaeologist of Palmyra, in Syria, lost his life to looters, and many others have survived gunfire while protecting ancient sites, which often are looted for money to support terrorism.
In addition to her research, Parcak is an avid supporter of children getting involved in science, specifically girls. She recently was honored with other local “superstars” at the Oct. 8 Girls on the Run “Evening of Empowerment,” which strives to unite women and girls in the community.
In Carsen’s interview, Parcak admitted it is difficult to be a female scientist but said she hopes that by “breaking the glass ceilings” she is opening up opportunities for young girls to follow in her footsteps.
For more information on the TED Prize, visit www.ted.com.