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VIDEO: University of Cincinnati Rocks NAPC 2009!

Paleontologists gathered at UC to talk about evolution and creation, mass extinction and climate change. Topics from millions of years ago are still plaguing us in the 21st century. What lessons can we learn from the past?

Date: 6/28/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover, photojournalist; video by Jay Yocis

UC ingot   More than 500 paleontologists, geologists, biologists and educators from nearly 30 countries flooded to the University of Cincinnati’s Uptown Campus for the ninth North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC 2009).
Tangeman University Center with welcome banners.
Conference organizer Arnie Miller says he thinks attendees were 'surprised to see such a gem of a campus that was perfect for a meeting of this size and nature.'

Throughout the week of plenary sessions, 20 symposia, 10 field trips and poster sessions, some constant themes emerged: climate change is not new; today’s K–12 students are tomorrow’s school board members; and studying the past holds important information for the future — if we interpret it correctly.

Arnie Miller, professor of geology in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, was the chair of the organizing committee. “It was a wonderfully eclectic meeting, touching on virtually all significant questions in 21st century paleontology about the history of life, including topics in evolution, mass extinction, ancient climate, and, of course the paleobiology of dinosaurs!” says Miller. “We had nearly 550 registered participants representing some 30 different countries, and the word on the street is that it was a thoroughly enjoyable and enriching meeting.”

Mark Terry is the chair of the Science Department at The Northwest School and Eugenie Scott is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education.
Mark Terry and Eugenie Scott talk about the importance of education and science literacy.

Speakers included renowned paleontologists and educators Ken Miller, Doug Erwin, Eugenie Scott, Mark Terry and Jeremy Jackson. Highlights of the week include field trips to showcase the region’s strata and fossils, including the world-renowned Cincinnati Arch. On Wednesday morning, the conference took respite from its conventional activities to embark on a variety of field trips, including two unusual opportunities.

The first was a fossil-collecting excursion to the Caesar Creek area north of Cincinnati. The second was a visit to the much-publicized Creation Museum. Nigel Hughes, professor of geology at the University of California–Riverside and former curator of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, was one of the conference participants who chose to visit the Creation Museum.

NAPC 2009 participants react to the Creation Museum tour.

Afterward, he described the importance of understanding the scientific foundations of the origin of the earth and the evolution of life. He felt that the role of instructors of paleontology and geology was to “present as clearly as possible the scientific basis for the history of the earth and why it is so incredibly relevant right now.”

“For the first time in human history, what we believe about the history of the earth really matters. We’re in an episode of global change,” Hughes explained. “The past, if we read it as science tells us, has a really relevant record for addressing global change. We see changes occurring very quickly in the ancient past hundreds of millions of years ago that suggest mechanisms that could also change our climate as a result of global warming that make a much worse effect particularly by the release of methane into the atmosphere. And we can read this, it’s happened in the past. It’s happened in the geological record. But the time scale of that and the success of the significance of the events we see only matter if we accept what science says. So this is a really critical time for us to be studying earth’s history and so it’s really important that our citizenry understands what is the scientific basis for our understanding of the history of the earth.”

Science literacy was a strong theme of NAPC 2009.

Educators were invited to attend any of the sessions during the meeting, but Thursday was specially designated as “Education and Public Outreach Day.” That day’s presentations focused on evolution and society, specifically the creationism-evolution controversy including talks by Eugenie Scott and Kenneth Miller.

Approximately 30 area teachers attended sessions in K–12 Education with tempting names like “‘Clam Chowder, Shark Soup and Echinoderm Sandwiches’: Virtual Field Trip to the Highly Fossiliferous Miocene of Lee Creek, Aurora, North Carolina. An inquiry-based paleontological activity that can be readily adapted for early childhood, middle, adolescent/young adult or undergraduate class” and “What Can We Really Learn from Dinosaurs?”

Judith Scotchmoor is at the Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley.
Judith Scotchmoor demonstrated her many online units available to teach with dinosaurs (as visual aids, not instructors).

It is no easy feat to organize an event of international significance that occurs only once every four years and Arnie Miller was quick to point out the many people who worked with him over the long haul. Not only did he receive positive feedback regarding the convention itself as a forum for intellectual exchange and sharing of research, but UC’s hosting skills were given high marks, too.

"Equally gratifying was the extent to which people and offices throughout the University and beyond pitched in to make this meeting a sumptuous success that left a highly positive impression about the university and the city of Cincinnati on all participants,” he says. “While many were already aware of UC's paleontology group and, of course, the incredible Ordovician and rocks and fossils throughout the region, I think they were surprised to see such a gem of a campus that was perfect for a meeting of this size and nature.

“I am especially grateful to the following: our ‘point person’ for the last two years at University Conferencing, Jamie Miller, who worked tirelessly to coordinate a complex set of logistics; UC offices of Information Technology, Athletics and Recreation, Housing, and Parking Services, for providing us with access to services and amenities at reduced costs; the staff at Tangeman University Center for facilitating the meeting day-to-day and solving an array of logistical challenges in real time as they arose;

Young woman examines poster describing the declining health of coral reefs in the Domican Republic.
The week-long convention offered poster sessions, lectures, discussions and field trips.

 the Cincinnati Zoo, for providing free admission to our registrants; the staff of the Cincinnati Museum Center, for their work on meeting publications and a Thursday-evening banquet in the rotunda of Union Terminal; Carl Brett for organizing and overseeing a complex set of field trips that attracted the participation of some 300 attendees; Dave Meyer for overseeing our Education-and-Public Outreach program; the Geology Department's graphic designer, Tim Phillips, for designing the meeting logo and for preparing all manner of signage and banners for use throughout the meeting; and the numerous volunteers, including many of our students in geology and several from biology, who facilitated and assisted with virtually every aspect of the meeting.”

To learn more about UC paleontology, visit the Web site, visit the Geier Center at the Cincinnati Museum Center or stop in the Geology-Physics building on UC’s Uptown campus. You might want to wait a week or so, though.

Scientists learn how to work with the media and their public information officers.
Lunchtime 'Hot Topic' sessions provided additional information outside the realm of science.

More About NAPC 2009

6/22/2009  VIDEO: Charles Darwin Kicks Off NAPC 2009 — And Kicks Up His Heels in the Process
Steve Miller Band sang “Time keeps on slippin’ ... into the future” and Charles Darwin tossed copies of his "latest book" to the crowd, as UC’s Arnie Miller announced, “This is not your grandfather’s NAPC!”

6/15/2009  UC Hosts Prestigious North American Paleontological Convention in the 'Year of Darwin'
Hundreds of paleontologists from around the world convene at the University of Cincinnati to discuss their research, science and evolution in the K–12 curriculum and the importance of public science literacy.


George Santayana said, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'
Science literacy begins early: Many speakers noted that today's children are tomorrow's school board members.

More About Paleontology at the University of Cincinnati

4/23/2009  It's a 'Threepeat' for UC's Paleontology Program
UC’s paleontology program, within the Department of Geology of the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, continues to be recognized as one of the nation's best.

4/20/2009  Scientists Bring New Life to an Ancient Ocean — Covering Cincinnati and the Tristate
David Meyer and Richard Davis bring 'A Sea Without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region' to Joseph-Beth Booksellers for a book signing on Sunday, April 26, at 1 p.m.

10/10/2008  Award-Winning Geology PhD Students Rock On
It has been a productive, honors- and grant-filled year for PhD students in the Department of Geology.

8/3/2008  UC’s Carl Brett Presented Prestigious Medal in Norway
The International Commission on Stratigraphy presents its second Digby McLaren Medal ever to Professor of Geology Carl Brett for a Lifetime of Notable Contributions.

11/9/2007  Paleontologists Honor UC’s Arnie Miller for Significant Work
The Paleontological Society has awarded UC scientist Arnie Miller with the prestigious Centennial Fellow title in recognition of his contributions to the field of paleontology.