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John Strong Newberry was a natural scientist, explorer, physician, and a charter member of the National Academy of Sciences. He helped to establish the first formal education programs for geological sciences in the United States.
Newberry attended Western Reserve College and graduated from Cleveland Medical School in 1848. He continued his medical training in Paris and returned to practice medicine in the United States. During this time, however, Newberry cultivated his lifelong interest in plants, fossils, and geology on the side and published his observations.
In 1855, Newberry was appointed assistant surgeon, geologist, and botanist for an Army expedition to explore the land between San Francisco and the Columbia River. He joined later expeditions to Colorado and to Santa Fe. At the start of the Civil War, he was appointed to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and quickly rose in the ranks to oversee the western division and sanitary services in the Mississippi Valley region. When the war ended, he returned to science with the Smithsonian Institution. One year later, Newberry was appointed the chair of geology and paleontology at Columbia University in New York, a position he held for 26 years until his death.
During his time at Columbia University, Newberry had a profound influence on the university itself, as well as on municipal affairs and scientific institutions within the city. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, president of the New York Academy of Sciences, and he directed the Geological Survey of Ohio. Newberry published more than two hundred articles during his 40-year career.