Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pt. 1 "How I became an echinoderm scientist" Geology-University of Illinois Edition!

Today. Something a little different.

Within the echinoderm research community, there has for many years, existed The Echinoderm Newsletter, a way for echinoderm scientists around the world, to stay in touch and communicate needs and information. The modern online "Echinoderm Newsletter" is here. The Older "Virtual Echinoderm Newsletter" is here.

One of the GREAT parts of this newsletter was a section called "How I became an echinoderm scientist" in which various professional scientists and students wrote short essays on HOW they came to study echinoderms. Some were paleontologists, others were deep-sea biologists, coral-reef ecologists and MANY more. These were interesting-as people who study echinoderms often shall we say, a unique perspective!

I have REVIVED the "How I became an echinoderm scientist" feature HERE. And will be reprinting these for everyone to enjoy. Later this week-biologists but today some Echinoderm PALEONTOLOGY!

Why? The aspiration of these is to provide INSIGHT but also to INSPIRE new generations of echinoderm biologists!

TODAY. We start with "How I became an echinoderm scientist"-Three stories from alumni/echinoderm scientists from THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN!
How does a Big 10, MIDWESTERN University end up contributing so much to Echinoderm Biology?? Through the long Paleontological legacy at the University of Illinois-GEOLOGY department! Many paleontogists worked on smaller echinoderm stratigraphy type projects during the era when the department's primary expertise was in carbonate (i.e., limestone) and oil geology.

Among them was my advisor...

Daniel Blake, emeritus Professor in Paleontology-Dept. of Geology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
(photo by Hugo Gonzalez)

I liked both biology and geology from childhood, and paleontology was a good way to combine the two, and so I majored in geology at the University of Illinois. The midcontinent of North America is a setting of Paleozoic rocks, but for graduate school, I decided to see mountains, oceans, and younger fossils, and so I migrated to the University of California at Berkeley and J. Wyatt Durham’s laboratory. I intended to work on mollusks, but at that time Wyatt was working on Helicoplacus and the echinoid Treatise and I got caught up in all of that. As to asteroids, on my first field trip at Cal, one of the students picked up a fossil “blob," Wyatt looked at it and said “It is a starfish," and something as simple as that started me on the way. (The fossil proved to be an arm fragment of Luidia)."

Some Recent Papers: 1. Blake 2009, 2. Blake & Portell 2009, 3. Blake 2009, 4. Blake & Ettensohn, 2009

William I. Ausich, Professor of Earth Sciences and Director, Orton Geological Museum, The Ohio State University

"My maternal grandfather polished rocks, in retirement. As a teenager, I was fascinated by these attractive stones, which included specimens called “pudding stone”, “petosky stone”, and “alphabet rock”. Alphabet rock was a crinoidal limestone, white crinoid columnals in a dark-colored matrix. Crinoid columnals were cut at all angles yielding the O, C, U, C, B, I, etc. shapes, hence the alphabet rock. This alphabet rock was most intriguing. My grandfather and I did conclude that the “letters” in the alphabet rock were crinoids by consultation with Fenton and Fenton’s The Fossil Book. Although I did not pursue rock or fossil collection or rock polishing as a teenager, I did enter the University of Illinois as an undergraduate major in Geology. At Illinois, Dan Blake was studying fossil asteroids, and two of his graduate students, Dennis Kolata and Frank Ettensohn,
were studying crinoids (and other echinoderms). The seed of interest planted unknowingly by my grandfather took firm root. By the beginning of my junior year, I had decided to study crinoids. I entered graduate school at Indiana University specifically to study fossil crinoids under the direction of Gary Lane. "
Bill Ausich Ohio State website:
Some recent publications:

Chris Mah, Research Collaborator Dept. of Invertebrate Zoology, NMNH
"I grew up in SF, a city blessed with museums, aquariums, parks, and easily accessible intertidal and marine habitats. I spent many afternoons digging up insects, looking at fish, and trying to catch planarians and crayfish from the lakes in the park. At the same time, when I wasn't working at family pharmacy-I was at home enjoying Saturday afternoon monster matinees. Weird stuff, science and science fiction fascinated me as a kid. I used to spend hours going through my Dad's first edition of John Buchsbaum's textbook invertebrate text "Animals without Backbones". I was a hardcore volunteer/visitor at the California Academy of Science's Steinhart Aquarium.

I went to Humboldt State University to decide on what I would do with my life and was told that marine biology would probably not be fruitful. But I was stuck on working on invertebrates and nearly decided on a career of either Entomology or Parasitology. I had an internship working at Monterey Bay Aquarium in the Interpretive Programs Office. During the program I was introduced to many species of sea stars (aka starfish or asteroids) that I had never seen before. Pteraster tesselatus! Poraniopsis! Hippasteria! Brisingids!! Strange beasts! Living Monsters! Aliens among us!

My interest continued onto grad school at San Francisco State University and research at the California Academy of Sciences, followed by my PhD at the very distant University of Illinois in Champaign-Illinois, where I got a degree in GEOLOGY of all things! I studied marine animals far away from my ocean!
Since I started my degree I've seen fantastic things from submersibles at the bottom of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, from ships in the Antarctic and secrets of starfishes from deep vaults in the museums of Paris. As a student, I could never have believed I would ever be studying starfishes at the Smithsonian. I've had no regrets since....."

Chris Mah's website:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's a small, small, world! I found this blog while trying to find information on cyclocystoids.

I was interested in the cyclos after Dr. Ettensohn showed me a remarkable assemblage that had been collected, locally.