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Meet Museum Director Bill DeWalt†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

By R. Jay Gangewere

The new director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Bill DeWalt, Ph.D., has had a distinguished career at the University of Pittsburgh since 1993 as an anthropologist and director for its Center for Latin American Studies.

"Our research was a global one, but we couldn't be more pleased that it ended right here in Pittsburgh, with Bill DeWalt," said Dr. Ellsworth H. Brown, president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh."Bill has it all--administrative experience, success as a fundraiser, a strong commitment to scientific research and discovery, and the enthusiasm and creativity that are so crucial to advancing the mission of this wonderful institution."

As director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Latin American Studies since 1993, DeWalt has increased the Center's endowment from $700,000 to more than $6 million. He expanded the Center's K-12 outreach program, established a new graduate certificate program in Latin American Social and Public Policy, built strong relationships with Latin American embassies, international conservation programs, and with the private and public sectors, including Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

Born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, DeWaltearned his BA in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Connecticut, and in 1977 began a 15-year academic career at the University of Kentucky, where he was chair of the department of Anthropology and director of the Latin American Studies program, before moving to Pittsburgh.†† DeWalt remains a Distinguished Service Professor at the university, which enables him to approach universities as a peer when exploring new relationships between academia and the museums.

When asked what philosophy should guide a natural history museum, De Walt says:"I think it has two main scientific charters: ecology and evolution.Weíre here to help people understand biodiversity and cultural diversity as they are revealed throughout history and ongoing scientific research.When someone visits a natural history museum,they should walk away with a better understanding of the diversity of our natural and human resources."

He is committed to preserving the museum's collections."Every educational and scientific institution needs a strong library, and thatís how I view the museumís collections: as a valuable library of scientific research and knowledge that is the heart and soul of the institution."

Regarding the role of technology, DeWalt says, "It makes the collections more accessible to a larger public.With the help of technology, we can, in effect, turn the museum inside out and really let the world see whatís inside.Thatís the greatest purpose for technology.†† "Technology is also a means for us to mount and change exhibits more frequently, which is so important in the programming side of a museumís charter.And letís not forget that weíre a multi-cultural and multi-lingual society; technology can and should be used to help us convert more of our programs and exhibits to different languages.

"Iíll listen to people who have given their lives to the museum and, in doing so, Iíll learn about Carnegie Museum of Natural Historyówhere it is, and where it still needs to go."††

Click on the image for a larger version.

You are what you eat with†† †††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††

A new idea about the evolution of mammals keeps Carnegie Museum of Natural History at the frontier of research

You are what you eat with--that's the way biologists who study mammals see it.Your mammalian teeth reveal not only your diet, but also your place on the ancestral tree.

In a recent issue of NATURE (January 2001), Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologist Zhexi Luo, along with two international colleagues, took a bite out of the standard theory of evolution of mammalian teeth.They proposed that the specialized cutting and grinding teeth of earliest mammals evolved not once, but twice,160 to 110 million years ago, in the Mesozoic Era, when today's continents were clustered in twoland masses--Laurasia, in the northern hemisphere, and Gondwana in the south.††

In both places, say Luo and his fellow scientists, ancestral mammals developed specialized teeth called "tribosphenic molars" for cutting and grinding food."Tribo" is Greek for cutting, and "sphenic" is Greek for grinding.The earliest mammals that had these teeth, could cut their food and grind it for digestion, enabling them to develop more omnivorous feeding.Tribosphenic teeth are a key development that enabled marsupials (which carry their young in pouches, like opossums) and placentals (which bear their young internally, within a placenta, like dogs and cats), to thrive after the extinction of dinosaurs.

The earliest "for cutting only" teeth let mammals slice up tiny and fragile insects, but did not let them crush tougher food or chew plants. The tribosphenic molar lets the animal pulverize food because a cusp on the upper tooth fits like a pestle into the mortar-like basin of the lower tooth. This action enabled animals to crush seeds and pulp fruit, and to grind up leaves--in effect, to become more successful and, therefore, to diversify throughout the world.

For decades paleontologists thought that because tribosphenic teeth were so unique and structurally intricate, they must have evolved from a single origin in the Mesozoic time. But now Drs. Luo, Cifelli, and Kielan-Jaworowska demonstrate that tribosphenic molars evolved twice in the Mesozoic time, in both the northern and southern clans of animals that lived on two different land masses.

"To have it evolve once was good, but to have it evolve twice is even better, because of the currently available evidence," says Luo. Such discoveries keep Carnegie Museum of Natural History scientists at the frontier ofthe theory of evolution.

Awards for two Outstanding Mineralogists

The Carnegie Mineralogical Award for the year 2000 was given to distinguished collector and philanthropist Dr. F. John Barlow at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show on February 10, 2001.Created in 1990 at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the award focuses on specimen mineralogy and is internationally prestigious.The list of past winners reads like a who's who in the world of mineralogy.Dr. Barlow is associated with the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, and for 30 years has generously shared his knowledge and outstanding specimen collection with students and fellow mineralogists.

Marc Wilson, head of the section of Minerals and Gems at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, also received an award from the AFMS Scholarship Foundation, Inc., in recognition of his public service.Representing the Eastern Federation of Mineralogical and Lapidary Societies, Wilson has the opportunity to select two outstanding graduate students in mineralogy to receive funding for their studies for two years, at a rate of$2,000 per year.Wilson said, "This annual award means a great deal to me because it comes from the public that I serve."

 

 

 

 

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