Graham Shimmield, a scientist who led Maine’s Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences during a time of transformation at the institution, died over the holiday weekend after a battle with cancer.

Shimmield, 58, had served as executive director of the East Boothbay research lab for nearly nine years and oversaw a dramatic expansion of both Bigelow’s facility and mission. During Shimmield’s tenure, Bigelow built a $32 million, 60,000-square-foot research and education “campus” on a waterfront parcel, significantly expanded the lab’s scientific staff and research faculty, and invested heavily in helping turn research into economic opportunities.

A resident of Newcastle, Shimmield died in his native United Kingdom on Saturday from complications related to colon cancer. He had gone back to Britain, as required, to renew the visa allowing him to live and work in the U.S. While Shimmield had been open with Bigelow’s staff about his cancer, the suddenness of his death caught friends and colleagues by surprise.

“Graham’s vision, knowledge and devotion to Bigelow Laboratory along with his ability to manage many challenges with care and gentleness defined him as a leader,” Herbert Paris, chairman of the Bigelow Laboratory board of trustees, said in a statement. “Graham enriched all of us who had the privilege of working with him. He was the guiding force that brought Bigelow Laboratory to international recognition. His passing is tragic, and it has left us deeply saddened.”

An internationally known oceanographer, Shimmield focused much of his research on geochemical processes in the oceans as well as climate change and how human activity was affecting the oceans.

He published more than 70 peer-reviewed academic papers during a 32-year career at institutions in his native Britain and the United States. His research took him throughout the world and, more recently, he was the lead researcher on a multi-year, federally funded research project that studied the role of plankton in the changing oceans.


Located on a hillside overlooking the Damariscotta River estuary, Bigelow Lab focuses on the microbial and biogeochemical side of the oceans with a team of more than 70 researchers and staff.

Bigelow had been around as a research institution for more 30 years before Shimmield joined the staff in 2008 and already had a well-developed reputation in international scientific circles. Yet as colleague Ben Twining put it, Bigelow had operated more as a “collective” of research scientists who came and went with their research funding.

Shimmield helped implement the lab’s long-standing plans for a new facility and hired full-time scientists as the lab expanded. But he also “professionalized” the way Bigelow operated by bringing on board people skilled in philanthropy, communications and management, said Twining, vice president and senior research scientist at Bigelow. Shimmield also expanded Bigelow’s outreach to other research and academic institutions as well Maine’s private sector as the lab sought to commercialize research.

“Certainly people knew about Bigelow but not many people knew a lot about Bigelow (in Maine) before he really started pounding the pavement,” said Twining. “He felt that Maine would benefit economically by having research institutions partner together.”

In 2011, Mainebiz named Shimmield to the publication’s “Next List” of players in Maine’s economy because of his role in the lab’s dramatic expansion and transformation. And in 2015, he was named by Maine Magazine as one of the “Bold Visionaries Defining Our State.”

Shimmield also served on numerous boards of organizations in Maine, including Maine Sea Grant, the Maine Innovation Economy Advisory Board, Maine Maritime Academy and Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory


Earlier this year, construction began on a 32-bed residence facility for visiting students and scientists at Bigelow as well as on a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse that will allow Bigelow staff to grow strains of algae on a commercial scale.

Twining will serve as acting executive director while an international search is conducted to fill the position. The lab is planning a celebration of Shimmield’s life for the spring and has created an endowment fund in his honor.

Contributions to the Dr. Graham Shimmield Endowment Fund may be sent to Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, P.O. Box 380, East Boothbay, ME 04544.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: