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George Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research for 2010: Carlton E. Brett


UC Geologist Carl Brett is known around the world for his research in paleontology and stratigraphy. He is also acclaimed internationally as a leader of field trips. Better book yours now!

Date: 5/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover, photojournalist

UC ingot   When someone says a person is “outstanding in his field,” it’s usually a metaphor. Not with Carlton E. Brett. Geologist Brett is receiving the Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research for 2010. Brett, a professor in the University of Cincinnati’s highly ranked paleontology program in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, is well known and respected worldwide for his research contributions in the fields of paleontology and stratigraphy. With Carlton Brett, however, there is a special emphasis on the word “field.”
Carlton Brett is receiving the George Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research for 2010.
Carlton Brett is receiving the George Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research for 2010.



Steven M. Stanley is a professor at the University of Hawaii and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Stanley is a highly respected paleobiologist, widely known as the author of “Macroevolution: Pattern and Process," and co-author of the first two editions of "Principles of Paleontology" — considered “the Bible” of paleontology — and the well-known Earth history text: “Earth System History.”

“Carl, in my view, is the world's best field paleontologist of all who study invertebrate fossils,” Stanley wrote in his letter supporting Brett’s nomination. “It is not simply that he has a knack for discovery: he is also a sleuth, who extracts remarkable truths from what he observes — truths that elude others.”

“Brett is a distinguished and award-winning paleontologist and geologist who, over the past 30 years, has produced a prodigious quantity of articles, edited books and guidebooks covering an enormous range of subject matter,” wrote Arnie Miller, former Geology Department head (and co-author of the third edition of "Principles of Paleontology"), in his letter of nomination.

Paleobiologist Steve Stanley described Brett as
Paleobiologist Steve Stanley described Brett as "a sleuth, who extracts remarkable truths from what he observes."

Lewis Owen, current head of the Geology Department, noted that Carl Brett has won international recognition from his peers, such as the Paleontological Society’s Schuchert Award, fellowship in the Paleontological Society and the Geological Society of America, the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship and the McLaren Medal of the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

“In addition, Carl is continuously organizing professional meetings and fieldtrips, which not only help drive the science but provide our helped give our department a high profile, making it one of the top programs in paleontology in the United States,” wrote Owen. In fact, UC’s graduate paleontology program is ranked sixth in the nation.

Brett has quite a following among nonscientists and scientists alike, from students who are just beginning their research to scholars whose names have been on university bookstore textbook shelves for years. For Carl Brett is the “King of Field Trips.”

“To be sure, Carl is, first and foremost, an aficionado of field work and, as so many of his students and colleagues will tell you, there is no place that he would rather be at any given moment on any given day (or night) in any given weather condition than at a rock outcrop,” wrote Miller.

Carl Brett admits that on a recent field trip in New York he led for the symposium on “Teaching Paleontology in the 21st Century,” his participants were disappointed because they returned before dark.

“Steve Stanley called it ‘Carl Lite,’” he says, laughing. Now Stanley wants a personal field trip from Carl Brett in the Cincinnati area and he plans to visit in May.

“Carl’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of his science permeates through our department,” department head Owen wrote. “Groups of undergraduate and graduates flock around him to learn about geology and ask for his guidance and advice.”

“Carl is more than a field paleontologist,” wrote Stanley. “He is a large-scale conceptualizer who takes on major scientific issues.”

He explained further: “North American geology began with the study of the massive body of Devonian rocks in New York State that were formed of sediment shed from newly forming mountains to the east. Carl has elevated our understanding of this classic body of rocks — and their fossils — to a new level. Since moving to southern Ohio, he has applied his talents, with similarly impressive results, to another classic body of even more fossiliferous rocks: the Upper Ordovician strata of the Cincinnati region.”

Miller stated that Brett’s “intuitive grasp of what he observes out in the field and his ability to incorporate these observations into meaningful scientific advances are legendary.”

Carlton Brett created this watercolor of a barn in 1969.
Carlton Brett created this watercolor of a barn in 1969.

For those who knew Brett as a child, this is not a surprise. Although Brett is noted as a devoted teacher and mentor and an internationally known scientist, few know that he is also a gifted artist.

Neil Hoffman, president of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, was a teacher of young Carlton Brett back in his early school days. (Just as Hoffman had been a student of Brett’s father, Wesley Brett, a professor of art and design at the State University College at Buffalo.)

“Carlton Brett's ability to visualize his studies helped him on his journey to becoming the internationally recognized expert in stratigraphy and paleoecology that he is today,” states Hoffman. “He was a genius as an artist — one of the most talented artists I’ve ever taught.”

Even in this early watercolor, created in high school, Carl Brett was emphasizing the rock beds.
Even in this early watercolor, created in high school, Carl Brett was emphasizing the rock beds.

In fact, in a 2009 article for the “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel” entitled “Time for Action in Support of Our City’s Schools,” Hoffman wrote the following:

“Decades ago, an elementary school student in an art class in Buffalo, N.Y., demonstrated what countless studies have shown — that arts education promotes creativity, human development and an aesthetic sensibility that allows people to use visual tools according to their interests, designs and passions,” posited Hoffman in the article.

“As this young boy's art teacher, I knew that he would be a paleontologist. He had an affinity for paleontology, but one of the ways he would describe what he had learned was through drawing his vision of the layers of earth and the discoveries within. Carlton Brett's ability to visualize his studies helped him on his journey to becoming the internationally recognized expert in stratigraphy and paleoecology that he is today.”

In addition to his teaching and research, Brett is also the director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Geology.
In addition to his teaching and research, Brett is also the director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Geology.

“It is difficult to convey in this brief letter the range of qualities that make Carl so special,” Miller wrote in his letter of nomination. “From the standpoint of his science, Carl is certainly among the most versatile, imaginative and hard-working researchers anywhere in the allied fields of paleontology and stratigraphy, and he has an encyclopedic memory of anything that he encounters.”

In addition to his extraordinary research, Brett is also the director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Geology. Miller noted that this additional service to his department might slow some others down, but it has only enhanced Brett’s scholarship and productivity. Not only has he continued to publish, but his students have published many papers as well.

Department head Owen agreed, saying that Brett’s students and he have published their work in the leading mainstream science and geoscience journals. “This research has helped lay the foundations for modern paleontology and stratigraphy for many future generations to come.”

“Carl is a veritable research dynamo,” Stanley summed up in his letter of support. “Especially in light of the breadth of his work, his prodigious output is unequalled by the contribution of any other field-oriented paleontologist.”

Read more about Carl Brett and Paleontology at UC:
Brett's field trips are highly sought after by students and experienced scholars alike.
Brett's field trips are highly sought after by students and experienced scholars alike.



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