WOOSTER, Ohio – Mark Wilson ’78, a faculty member at The College of Wooster since 1981 and currently the Lewis M. and Marian Senter Nixon Professor of Natural Sciences, accepted the distinguished Gilbert Harris Award, presented by the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), at the recent Geological Society of America annual meeting in Indianapolis.
The PRI, since 1993, has selected a Gilbert Harris Award recipient for career excellence in systematic paleontology – the branch of science classifying fossils and placing them in evolutionary context. The awardee is a scientist who, through outstanding research in and commitment to the centrality of systematics in paleontology, has made a significant contribution to science.
“I am deeply honored by this award and thank the PRI for its generosity. Systematic paleontology is critical because it is the fine-grained data for understanding evolution and the history of life. I have worked with wonderful scientific teams all my career. I want to especially thank my important mentors Paul Taylor at the Natural History Museum in London and Bill Ausich at The Ohio State University, and my colleagues at Wooster have also been particularly encouraging and supportive of this work. I am humbled and very fortunate to have such friends,” said the typically modest Wilson of his significant honor.
In the citation, read by Warren D. Allmon, director of the PRI, Wilson is described as “an outstanding scholar, who has contributed a substantial body of paleobiological research, including a considerable amount of systematic paleontology, and he is a model for a liberal arts college science educator.”
An international scientist with published research on various aspects of paleontology from the Bahamas, China, Cyprus, Estonia, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Poland, Russia, and the United States, Wilson is recognized for his work on the topics of global sea level, organisms that dwell on and in hardgrounds, predation, and biotic interactions in the fossil record among others. Allmon noted that a significant portion of his work has been on “poorly-loved fossils,” and “working with these challenging groups” has been “critical for a comprehensive understanding of the full biodiversity and paleoecology of ancient marine paleocommunities, especially hardground paleocommunities.”
Wilson started down this career path, when, while on a class fieldtrip as a student at Wooster in 1977, fellow student Mary Beidler found a small trilobite, an extinct marine arthropod from hundreds of millions of years ago, in Lower Carboniferous shale. Wilson proceeded to discover that the trilobite was a new species and gave it the scientific name Brachymetopus nodosus in his first publication.
More than 120 published papers later, many including Wooster students as co-authors, Wilson is a leading authority on the “History of Life,” also the name of a very popular geology class he teaches. A fellow of the Paleontological Society and the GSA, he remains energized to study the evolution and paleoecology of encrusting and bioeroding invertebrates and associated areas of interest.
Wooster has been fortunate to be Wilson’s home for his entire academic career, where he has served as a mentor to hundreds of students who have gone on to highly successful graduate studies and professional careers, chaired the department of geology (now earth sciences) on-and-off for 15-plus years, and served on a number of campus committees.
“We are so delighted that Mark was selected to receive this wonderful award, which honors his decades of extraordinary work in paleontology around the world. Mark is a superb scientist, whose creativity and research acumen have led him to publish over a hundred research papers, many with student coauthors. No wonder the Paleontological Research Institution selected him for this award – as he is at the top of his field, among both colleges and universities. Wooster is so incredibly fortunate to have Mark here, teaching and doing research with our students,” stated Sarah Bolton, president of Wooster.