B.A., College of Wooster; M.A., University of Wisconsin; Ph.D., George Washington University
Gordon P. Lang and Althea P. Lang ’26 Professor of Biological Sciences
Vertebrate paleontologist with interests at the interface of morphology, evolution, and development.
My interests lie in patterns of morphological diversity and how they arise during the embryological development of the individual and during the evolution of lineages over geologic time. I address this field by study of the vertebral column, a complex structure with several levels of organization. My previous work examined transformations of the column in terrestrial lineages that secondarily adopted aquatic lifestyles: sirenians, ichthyosaurs, and whales. My more recent work has concentrated on the developmental processes by which the mammalian vertebral column has become progressively more regionalized over evolutionary time. Mammals that appear to “break the rules” of column morphology, among them manatees, tree sloths, and the Pigmy Right Whale, particularly intrigue me.
I teach courses in organismal biology, evolution, comparative physiology and anatomy, and the history of life. All of my teaching is inspired by the common origin of Earth's organisms and by the varied adaptations that allow them to exist in diverse environments. I have also taught portions of multidisciplinary courses and geology courses, both here at Wellesley and at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I work independently with research students every year, and publish with them often. They bring energy and fresh insights to my research.
My interest in "unusual" and extinct animals has taken me to a range of paleontological digs and museums. My recent sabbatical trip to natural history museums in Australia and New Zealand was a personal and professional highlight. I am active in the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, where I enjoy the exchange of ideas with colleagues. I occasionally address non-scientific audiences about issues at the interface of science and religion, and presented the Townes Lecture at the 2009 General Synod of the United Church of Christ.
I love spending time with my extended family—including those of earlier generations, as I am the family historian and genealogist. A birding trip, a walk in the woods, or a visit to the family wheat farm in the Palouse region of Washington State always brings peace and clarity. I am an amateur cellist, and have been a member of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra for 14 years.