Header Mary Clark Thompson Medal

The Mary Clark Thompson Medal was established in 1919 by a gift from Mary Clark Thompson to honor important services to geology and paleontology. This medal is presented every three years with a $15,000 prize.

Susan M. Kidwell, William Rainey Harper Professor in the department of the geophysical sciences and the committee on evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago, is the 2015 recipient of the Mary Clark Thompson Medal.

Scientists have long considered the world’s fossils to be an incomplete chronicle of the past. Charles Darwin called the geological record a “history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect.” Darwin wasn’t wrong—after all, only some organisms in some places leave behind fossils, and only a small fraction of those fossils have been found—but scientists are now learning how to make best use of that incomplete history. Kidwell has combined geological fieldwork, experiments in the lab and measurements in modern environments to investigate how the fossil record is formed and how to best use it to understand the past and anticipate the future of today’s biodiversity. In comparative analyses along environmental gradients and across geologic time, she determined the major controls on how and where marine life is preserved, providing a strategy for extracting the most reliable data from the fossil record. That has opened new opportunities for discoveries about the ecology and evolution of ancient life. She showed that misfits between live populations and the seashells they leave behind on modern seafloors signal not poor preservation but a recent ecological shift, almost always driven by human activities such as pollution or seafloor dredging. This research has fostered a new field of science, conservation paleobiology, which uses the youngest part of the fossil record to determine the baseline condition of ecosystems and evaluate the effects humans have had on biodiversity.

Recipients:

Susan M. Kidwell (2015)
For her groundbreaking work on fossil preservation that has transformed our view of how the history of life is encoded in the rock record. Her studies have revealed the fidelity of the fossil record, and thereby have yielded powerful insights to the evolution and ecology of ancient life on Earth.

Andrew H. Knoll (2012)
For unparalleled contributions relating Precambrian life to Earth’s physical and chemical history and for innovative contributions on the paleophysiology and evolution of algae and land plants.

Alfred G. Fischer (2009)
For leadership and research in the discovery of the cyclical and period nature of the sedimentary record in the geologic past and its connections with earth-system change, including biodiversity.

Steven M. Stanley (2006)
For research and leadership in bivalve functional morphology and the macroevolution of disparate animals, including hominids, in the context of Earth's physical and chemical history.

Frederik J. Hilgen (2003)
For his meticulous integration of various geological, geophysical, and proxy cyclostratigraphic sedimentological records in developing a late Neogene (12-0Ma) astronomical time scale.

Jan Smit (1999)
For establishing the sequence of impact-generated events that occured 65 million years ago, including ejecta fallout, tsunami propagation, geochemical distubances, and extinction in foraminifera and dinosaurs.

David L. Jones (1995)
For his development of terrane-tectonic theory through geologic mapping of westernmost North America and the biostratigraphic study of radiolarians in deepwater chert.

Harry B. Whittington (1990)

J. William Schopf (1986)

W. A. Berggren (1982)

James M. Schopf (1976)

Hollis D. Hedberg (1973)

Raymond C. Moore (1970)

Wendell P. Woodring (1967)

Milton N. Bramlette (1964)

Norman D. Newell (1961)

Roman Kozlowski (1958)

G. Arthur Cooper (1957)

Alfred S. Romer (1954)

Lloyd W. Stephenson (1952)

Lauge Koch (1949)

Frank H. McLearn (1948)

John Bernard Reeside, Jr. (1946)

Thomas W. Vaughan (1945)

William Joscelyn Arkell (1944)

George G. Simpson (1943)

Edward W. Berry and Arthur S. Woodward (1942)

David M. Watson (1941)

Amadeus William Grabau (1936)

Charles Schuchert (1934)

Francis A. Bather (1932)

David L. White (1931)

William B. Scott and Edward Oscar Ulrich (1930)

James P. Smith (1928)

John M. Clarke (1925)

Emmanuel de Margerie (1923)

Charles Doolittle Walcott (1921)

 

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