Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell

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Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell speaking at the 2nd Symposium on Biotremology in Riva del Garda, Italy (2018)

Caitlin Elizabeth O'Connell-Rodwell is an instructor at Stanford University Medical School, scientific consultant, author, co-founder and CEO of Utopia Scientific, and an expert on elephants. Her elephant research was the subject of the Elephant King, an award-winning Smithsonian Channel documentary.[1]

Education and career[edit]

Caitlin O’Connell received her B.Sc. in biology at Fairfield University in 1987 with a minor in French and art history and in 1991 her M.Sc. at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in ecology, evolution and conservation biology, involving research on seismo-acoustic communication of planthoppers.[2]

In the course of three-year government contract involving efforts to mitigate conflicts between farmers and African elephant, she observed that also the elephants performed seismo-acoustic communication. Based on five years of experiments with captive elephants in the United States, Zimbabwe and India,[2] she earned her Ph.D. in ecology at the University of California, Davis in 2000.[3] She has subsequently worked at Stanford University Medical School as postdoctoral fellow,[4] as assistant professor and (currently) as instructor at its Department of Otolaryngology.[3]

In October 2002, together with Timothy Rodwell, she founded Utopia Scientific, a non‐profit corporation in San Diego that is dedicated to science and public health education. In spring 2013 she joined Georgia College as the inaugural Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Distinguished Scholar.[5]

O'Connell's work has focussed on elephant communication and elephant societies.[5] At Stanford's Department of Otolaryngology, she investigates the role that the propagation and detection of vibrations play in elephant communication, aiming at applying elephant vibrotactile studies to humans, including the hearing-impaired and the profoundly deaf.[6][7] (For related approaches, see: Sensory substitution.)


In October 2007 she was awarded the Distinguished Young Alumna Award of the University of California, Davis.

The book The elephant scientist, which she wrote together with Donna M. Jackson and for which she and her husband Timothy C. Rodwell provided the photographs, received the Sibert Medal in 2012.

She received the Outstanding Science Trade Book award 2012 and the Junior Library Guild Selection 2011.[3]


Caitlin O'Connell(-Rodwell) is author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and several popular science books.

Academic books:

  • The Use of Vibrations in Communication: properties, mechanisms and function across taxa, Research Signpost, 2010, ISBN 978-8178954516.

Popular science books:

  • Elephant don: the politics of a pachyderm posse, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2015
  • with Timothy C. Rodwell: A baby elephant in the wild, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, 2014
  • with Timothy C. Rodwell: An elephant's life: an intimate portrait from Africa, Lyons Press, 2012
  • with Donna M. Jackson and Timothy C. Rodwell: The elephant scientist, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011
  • The elephant's secret sense : the hidden life of the wild herds of Africa, Free Press, New York, 2007.

She has published numerous contributions in the media, among others in National Geographic magazine, National Geographic Channel, Africa Geographic magazine, Discovery Channel, Discover Magazine, Science News, Fox Channel, BBC online, The Writer and Smithsonian magazine.[3]


  1. ^ "Elephant King". Smithsonian Channel. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
  2. ^ a b Cheryl Ernst: Understanding Elephants: UH scholars study wild and working animals on two continents, malamalama, May, 2007 Vol. 32 No. 2, University of Hawai'i System
  3. ^ a b c d Curriculum vitae, Caitlin Elizabeth O’Connell-Rodwell (PDF; 173 kB)
  4. ^ Previous Postdoctoral Fellows, Stanford University Medical School
  5. ^ a b Visiting Scholars: Dr. Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell Archived 2014-03-22 at the Wayback Machine., Georgia College
  6. ^ Research Labs: Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell Archived 2014-03-22 at the Wayback Machine., Stanford School of Medicine, Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (OHNS)
  7. ^ Tracie White: For elephants, deciding to leave the watering hole demands conversation, study shows Archived 2014-03-22 at the Wayback Machine., October 2, 2012, Stanford School of Medicine

External links[edit]

Websites on Caitlin O'Connell

Publications about Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell:

Popular science reading and lectures by Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell: