Sometimes, algae can be the highest form of flattery.

So it was for Diane K. Stoecker, a professor in Maryland's university system, who studies aquatic creatures so small they might make a worm sneeze. During a 26-year career, Stoecker has won a few laurels: fellowships, grants, published papers.

But a scientific journal next week could reveal something bigger.

Well, actually, smaller, like 10-could-fit-under-a-human-hair small.

"I tried not to be too excited," said Stoecker, who works for the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science on the Eastern Shore. "But I was thrilled."

A new species of one-celled algae, which spends its days munching on other tiny organisms off the coast of South Korea, had been named in her honor.

Stoeckeria algicida, as it's called, eats by stabbing a tiny straw-like appendage into its victims' innards.

"Some wimp organism wasn't named after me," Stoecker said yesterday. "This a real tough cookie."

Stoecker said she helped mentor the lead scientist behind the discovery, Hae Jin Jeong of Seoul National University in South Korea. The name, expected to be unveiled in a scientific journal next month, is a thank-you from him, she said.

Newly discovered organisms are often named for their special attributes, their habitats, or for people influential in their fields. Before Stoecker, College Park biology professor Richard Highton was a somewhat reluctant namesake for Isospora hightoni, an intestinal parasite that lives in salamanders.

"I can't think of a worse thing to have named after you," Highton said, but he agreed to it anyway.

Stoecker is not so conflicted. She said that she likes the idea of the name lasting through the ages and that she's looking forward to a memento from Jeong.

"He's sending me a T-shirt," she said, with the organism's picture on it.