Staff & Student News

The Scholarship Committee is pleased to announce the outstanding recipients of this year’s 2012 graduate fellowships. 

The Women’s Board Fellowship was awarded to Charlie McCord, working with Curator and Chair Mark Westneat (Zoology/Fishes).  Charlie is a 4th year OBA student (U. Chicago) who has participated in several Field Museum expeditions to the Pacific; Research Associates Callum Ross and Melina Hale are also on her advisory committee.  Her work extends Mark’s phylogenetic and biomechanical program to triggerfish and filefish (balistoids), asking new questions about the origin and function of muscle subdivisions in vertebrate evolution.  During the next year, she will: 1) Use FMNH’s collection of tetraodontiform fishes to characterize and compare shape variation of the balistoid jaw complex; 2) Develop and use biomechanical jaw models that will quantify the functional capabilities of balistoid jaws; and 3) Utilize the FMNH tissue sample collections to extract and sequence DNA from five genes in the Pritzker Lab for about 20 species of tetraodontiform fishes.

The Lester Armour Fellowship was awarded to Nate Upham (see attached image), working with MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals).  Nate is a 4th year CEB student (U. Chicago) who is also advised by Associate Curator Rick Ree (Botany) and Research Associates Trevor Price and David Jablonski.  Nate seeks to reconstruct the history of South America’s octodontoid rodents, which have radiated throughout the continent and into Central America and the Caribbean from the Oligocene onwards.  Nate will use his year of residence at FMNH to extend the group’s molecular phylogeny to include more than a dozen additional taxa (including some extinct members) and to survey the morphology of extant members of the group in the Museum’s superb Neotropical collections.  His ultimate aim is to understand how speciation and extinction shaped the group’s ecological "footprint" throughout its Cenozoic radiation.

Committee Chair Petra Sierwald (Zoology/Insects) thanks the departmental representatives (Bruce Patterson, Zoology; Philip Heck, Geology, Sabine Huhndorf, Botany and John Terrell, Anthropology) for their work on behalf of the applicants.  Graduate students working in C&R greatly enrich the overall intellectual health of The Field Museum.  As always, Committee Secretary Stephanie Ware (Zoology/Insects) kept the proceedings running smoothly, while also providing administrative assistance to fellowship recipients.


The American Botanical Council (ABC) announced on March 1 that Research Associate Doel Soejarto (Botany/University of Illinois at Chicago) was awarded this year’s Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award.  The award is named for he late Norman R. Farnsworth, a research professor of pharmacognosy at UIC, and is presented each year to a person or institution that has made significant contributions to botanical and/or pharmacognostic research (i.e., research on drugs of natural origin, usually from plants).  Doel is a professor of pharmacognosy in the department of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy at the College of Pharmacy at UIC, and a great collaborator with The Field Museum’s Botany Department for many years.  Some of the highlights of his scientific career include the completion of the taxonomic revision of the genus Saurauia, the discovery of anti-HIV calanolides from a pair of Calophyllum species, and the founding of the herbarium at the University of Anitoqiua in Colombia.  ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal noted that “The Farnsworth Award’s being granted to Professor Soejarto is particularly poignant this year.  Professor Farnsworth himself chose Professor Soejarto a few months before he died last September.  Thus Professor Soejarto is the last person to receive this award with Professor Farnsworth’s ‘blessing.’”  Congratulations to Doel on this well-deserved recognition.


Associate Curator and Chair Peter Makovicky (Geology) visited Washington D.C. from February 22–24, where he served on an NSF panel.  The panel reviewed 69 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants submitted to the Systematics panel of NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology.  Former Field Museum Curator Maureen Kearney was one of the participating Program Officers, and Geology Department Research Associates Pat Herendeen and Daniel Kspepka also served.


Research Assistant Danielle Riebe (Anthropology/graduate student at UIC) has received an Anthropology Alliance Summer Field Internship to conduct fieldwork with Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) on the Diros Project on the Mani Peninsula, Greece.  During the summer season, Danielle will analyze the composition of obsidian from survey and museum collections using Portable X-Ray Fluorescence (PXRF) in order to understand ancient regional interaction and boundaries.  Recently, Danielle has utilized The Field Museum’s Elemental Analysis Facilities to characterize obsidian from two quarries on Melos and those results will allow her to source the lithics analyzed in the field.  This research is a continuation of the Museum’s initiative to build an Economic Geology collections database that can be accessed by scholars’ worldwide.  Previous funding from the Women’s Board Field of Dreams Program and the Anthropology Collections Fund made the initial phase of this research possible.

Research & Publications

A collaborative project by Associate Curator Petra Sierwald (Zoology/Insects), colleagues from Thailand (Nattarin Wongthamwanich, Somsk Panha, Kumthorn Thirakhupt), and former Zoology Postdoctoral Fellow Thomas Wesener resulted in the description of a new species of giant pill millipede, Sphaerobelum truncatum, including a detailed description of morphological and molecular characters.  This work is part of a large project by Nattarin to inventory and describe the giant pill millipedes of the genus Sphaerobelum, which are distributed in Southeast Asia.     

Education LifeDesk is an online interactive platform that enables the development of species pages for the Encyclopedia of Life by students and citizen scientists.  The resulting pages are reviewed by experts and published on the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL).  In her effort to accelerate and encourage contributions to EoL by citizen scientists, high school and undergraduate students, Petra published two detailed downloadable manuals on Education LifeDesk, which are available here.  The development of these manuals is the result of three years of experience with various undergraduate and high school students (many of them FMNH interns) and Tracy Barbaro from Education LifeDesk at Harvard.  Curator Rüdiger Bieler and Postdoctoral Research Scientist Andre Sartori (both Zoology/Invertebrates) helped throughout by reviewing student pages and helping to analyze the student’s progress.  The team’s project demonstrates that the production of taxon pages by students of various levels has exceptional educational value.  The students complete a full research project—from literature search, analyzing published scientific literature, gaining organismal knowledge by examining real specimens, to writing (and re-writing) a succinct, polished summary of the data and their own observations that is readily comprehensible to a wide audience. 


On February 28, A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology)gave a guest lecture on his research into primate and human evolution for a group of 12 students at the University of Chicago.  The lecture was given as a contribution to the introductory course on evolution for non-majors; “From So Simple A Beginning...” co-organized by Associate Curator Petra Sierwald (Zoology/Insects) and Curator Rüdiger Bieler (Zoology/Invertebrates).  Bob started off with a summary of last summer’s mummy-scanning project that led to the current exhibit Opening the Vaults: Mummies.  He followed this with a brief introduction to primate evolution before focusing on two main themes: estimating the time of origin of primates, with reference to continental drift and palaeoclimates, and exploring the evolution of brain size in primates and other mammals, emphasizing some recent research on the evolution of brain size in bats with graduate student Lu Yao (University of Chicago) and Regenstein Conservator JP Brown (Anthropology).  At  the following lecture on March 1, the students asked for tickets to go to The Field Museum to see Opening the Vaults: Mummies and Rüdiger’s upcoming Bivalve exhibit Science on the Half Shell.


On February 23 and 24, Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) visited the University of Texas at Austin.  Ken presented a talk on some of his recent work on how food web structure can promote or inhibit extinctions in the Department of Geological Sciences Paleontology Brown Bag seminar series.  Ken also used the collections at the Texas Natural Science Center, collecting data on extant turtles and fossil synapsids for various ongoing projects.


Beth Sanzenbacher (BioSynC) attended the Synthesis Center Education and Outreach Meeting on February 23–24 at NIMBioS in Knoxville, TN.  Education and Outreach coordinators and specialists from 12 synthesis centers and educational organizations came together to discuss best practices and challenges in delivering educational programs to K-12, undergraduate and graduate students, and connecting the public to active research and science.  Synthesis centers and educational organizations in attendance included: BioSynCNIMBioSSESYNCCURENTMSRIMBISAMSINEON, NESCentNCEASHands On, and Animal Diversity Web.


Resident Graduate Student Carrie Seltzer (Zoology/Mammals and UIC) gave a well-attended biology seminar at her alma mater, Earlham College, on March 1, entitled “Plants, rats, and fruit bats: seed dispersal and regeneration in a Tanzanian rainforest.”  The presentation highlighted projects that she is working on Tanzania that have been supported by the Council on Africa, as well as projects with Research Associate Norbert Cordeiro (Botany/Zoology) at Roosevelt University.

Fieldwork & Collections

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) received a grant from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) for his archaeological fieldwork project in southern Greece.  The Diros Project, which Bill co-directs, is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary, research project that brings together a team of Greek and American scientists to study the human habitation of the Mani Peninsula in southern Greece (see header image).  The project centers around the important early agricultural village site inside Alepotrypa Cave—a cave system connected to the famous “Caves of Diros.”  Alepotrypa was a massive village and burial complex that was occupied during the Neolithic, ca. 5,500–3,000 BC.  The remains of children on the surface of the cave suggest the entrance was closed abruptly—perhaps by an earthquake—at the end of the Neolithic period, making the site a prehistoric Pompeii.  By bringing together geologists, archaeologists, historians, and ethnographers, Bill and his team are piecing together how large village sites like Alepotrypa were established by small groups of early farmers.  During the first season of fieldwork, Bill and his team identified several other sites near Alepotrypa in Diros Bay.  Their continued work in the region will explore how the Mani was used by humans from the earliest occupation during the Paleolithic to the end of the 20th Century.

Public Education & Media Coverage

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson's (Anthropology) research was covered in an article in USA Today, and was also picked up by multiple newspapers across the nation.  The article discusses the mythology surrounding Alepotrypa Cave in southern Greece, where Bill and his colleagues are currently working.  A link to the article is available here.