Norman D. Newell
American Museum of Natural History
January 27, 1909 - April 18, 2005
Election Year: 1979
Scientific Discipline: Geology
Membership Type: Member
Norman Newell was a leading authority on the fossil record of bivalve mollusks, but his achievements went further, reshaping the practice of paleontology so that it included biological perspectives. His writing discussed environmental changes that may have led to mass extinctions, the relationship between extinction and evolution, and how increasing human populations are directly related to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Newell was also known for his activism on behalf of evolutionary research, which he felt was jeopardized by the public’s inability to decipher the language of the scientific community.
Newell studied geology at the University of Kansas and earned his PhD in 1933 at Yale University. He joined the geology faculty at the University of Kansas and moved to the University of Wisconsin as an associate professor in 1937. In 1942, Newell was invited to assist the Peruvian government in its search for petroleum resources; when he returned three years later, he accepted simultaneous positions as professor of geology at Columbia University and curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Newell was awarded emeritus status at both institutions in 1977 and continued working well into his nineties.
Newell received many awards and honors throughout his career, including the Mary Clark Thompson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America, the Geological Society of Peru Medal, and the Legendary Geoscientist Award from the American Geological Institute.