McMicken College of Arts & SciencesUniversity of Cincinnati

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UC’s Paleontology Program Ranked 6th in Nation


U.S. News and World Report names the Department of Geology’s paleontology program the 6th best in the U.S.—one spot higher than its previous ranking.

Date: 4/15/2010 12:05:00 AM
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577

UC ingot   Cincinnati is famous for paleontology. Maybe it’s the sheer number of Ordovician fossils available in the Cincinnati area that caused geologists worldwide to refer to the epoch as the “Cincinnatian.”

Or it could be that the University of Cincinnati’s graduate paleontology program, which has just been ranked the 6th best program in the country by U.S. News and World Report, puts Cincinnati at the forefront of the paleontology field.

Since the last ranking, conducted in 2006, the Department of Geology’s paleontology program has moved up from its previous spot in 7th place.

Dave Meyer.
Dave Meyer

“Moving up in the rankings shows that we continue to be successful in paleontology,” department head Lewis Owen says. “Everyone seems to work together and push for the benefit of the department. Our faculty are very proactive and our graduate students are as well.”

The paleontologists are not overlooking UC’s key location either. In fact, the three internationally renowned invertebrate paleontologists who run the program—Professors Carl Brett, Dave Meyer and Arnie Miller—think it’s given them an edge.

“We take advantage of the location, of the famous rocks and fossils of this area,” says Dave Meyer, who specializes in invertebrate paleontology, including coral reef ecology and paleoecology. “They serve as great field sites for our students and continue to be fruitful resources.”

Arnie Miller.
Arnie Miller

Meyer has even used the collection of invertebrate fossils in his most recent work, “A Sea Without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region.” The book came out last year and looks at the abundance of fossils that exist in the local limestone and shale of Cincinnati.

At the same time, Arnie Miller notes, "What makes our program unique, when compared to other programs nationally, is the way in which we couple paleontological analyses conducted locally with larger scale syntheses conducted on regional and global data to understand the global history of life on earth throughout geological time."

The paleontology program was able to show off its regional resources and its global interests last year when UC was asked to be the host of the 2009 North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC), an international meeting of paleontologists that convenes every four years. Ten field trips were scheduled during the five-day conference, as well as more than 30 symposia, poster sessions and plenary sessions.

“We had nearly 550 registered participants representing some 30 different countries,” Miller says. “It was a wonderfully eclectic meeting, touching on virtually all significant questions in 21st century paleontology about the history of life.”

Miller, an evolutionary paleontologist who specializes in biodiversity and ancient extinction, was the chair of the organizing committee for NAPC. Among his many accomplishments, he helped to create and continues to contribute to the globally successful Paleobiology Database, and in 2007 was named a Centennial Fellow by the Paleontological Society, the international organization of paleontologists.

Carl Brett.
Carl Brett

Carl Brett, too, has earned his share of awards for his work in specialties like stratigraphy, taphonomy and paleoecology. In 2008 he earned the Digby McLaren Medal, an award for a lifetime of notable contributions by the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

The Digby McLaren Medal Citation reads: “Carl has acquired an understanding of the detailed dynamics of physical and biological sediment accumulation, reworking and erosion that is both profound and peerless—it is as if he had been there to witness it.”

While the three paleontologists (and two adjunct faculty in the program: Glenn Storrs and Brenda Hunda of the Cincinnati Museum Center) are accomplished in their own rights, they all take just as much pride in the caliber of students in the graduate program.

“Our students have done exceptionally well,” Carl Brett says. “We’re even known jokingly as the Cincinnati mafia, and part of that is because our students occupy important positions nationwide.”

Brett adds, "One of the best indications of the quality and success of our students is that virtually all of those who have completed their graduate studies in the past 10 years have received good job offers as professional paleontologists and geologists around the country."

One paleo graduate, Kate Bulinski, was featured in the cover story on the alumni magazine for Bellarmine University, where Bulinski accepted a position as an assistant professor of geoscience after receiving her PhD from UC.

Graduate student Jay Zambito is a fourth-year doctoral student in the program, working on a dissertation involving extinction intervals during the Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era. By looking at climatic changes that drove these extinctions, he’s hoping for key findings to help predict what will happen in the future, in the face of anticipated climatic changes.

Jay Zambito.
PhD student Jay Zambito

Zambito, the graduate-student representative for the Paleontological Society, was one of five recipients of this year’s Distinguished Dissertation Completion Fellowships given by the Graduate School. He was quick to offer praise to his dissertation committee and his advisor, Carl Brett, for helping him with his research.

“I have an excellent relationship with my advisor. He truly is a mentor to me, but he also lets me obtain experience as a mentor myself by letting me involve undergraduates in the research I’m doing,” he says. “The faculty here and the department in general do everything possible to help the students have a successful career at UC.”

“We’re at the forefront of paleontological research,” he continues. “I know a lot of students from other universities come on our field trips—and it’s because they all want to get that ‘Cincinnati experience.’”

Read more about Paleontology at UC

VIDEO: ‘Geology Is Wonderful’ Says NAPC 2009 Participant
Stunning outcrops, impressive gastropods and bluegrass music. You didn’t have to attend the North American Paleontological Convention at UC to enjoy this video.

Paleontologists Find Extinction Rates Higher in Open-Ocean Settings During Mass Extinctions
Environmental selectivity during three of the ‘Big Five’ mass extinction events focus of two paleontologists’ latest research.

Professor Publishes Book on Geology of Cincinnati
Geology professor Dave Meyer takes a look at local fossil records for clues on ancient marine life in the region.

Kate Bulinski — A Great Find
A diamond in the rough might be an appropriate description for a geologist. Diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance, created by intense pressure. But Kate Bulinski is not rough. And she’s not a mineralogist; she’s a paleontologist.

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