Dec. 5, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 5

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    Doctoral student wins Romer, others honored

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The photo is of a Monodelphis (marsupial) neonate four days after birth. The neonate has been cleared and stained, a technique that results in a “clear” embryo in which red bone and blue cartilage can be seen. Sears used cleared and stained embryos such as this one for the ontogenetic component of her study. The marsupial in the photo is about 8 millimeters in length.
    The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology awarded its top student honor, the Alfred Sherwood Romer Prize, to Karen Sears, a Ph.D. student in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, at its 62nd annual meeting.

    Allison Beck, Ph.D. student in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, also was honored, receiving the society’s lone pre-doctoral fellowship. Gina Wesley, Ph.D. student in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, received the fellowship last year. The fellowship is intended to promote a professional career in vertebrate paleontology by allowing the recipient greater freedom to pursue research during the final stages of the doctoral program.

    The Romer Prize is awarded for “original and important research in vertebrate paleontology and a presentation of the highest quality at the annual meeting.”

    Sears’ research shows that the evolution of the marsupial shoulder girdle is more limited in the shape and range of anatomical forms compared to that of placental mammals because newborn marsupials must crawl into their mother’s pouch to continue their development. A journalistic description of her detailed, statistical analysis and comparison of marsupial and placental mammal shoulder blades appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of Science.

    “Over the past 10 years, Chicago has been exceptionally prolific in garnering the Romer Prize, with four winners, including two in a row,” said John Flynn, Associate Chair of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology and MacArthur Curator at the Field Museum. Christian Sidor, Ph.D. student in Organismal Biology & Anatomy, won the 2001 Romer Prize, and Raymond Rogers (Ph.D. ’95, Geophysical Sciences) received the award in 1993, followed by John Alroy (Ph.D. ’94, Committee on Evolutionary Biology) in 1994.

    This year’s award may mark the first time a student of a previous Romer Prize winner also received the honor. Sears’ adviser, Flynn, won the award in 1982.

    Flynn also finished his ninth and final year on the society’s board and executive committee at last month’s annual meeting. He served as the society’s secretary for three years, followed by two-year cycles as vice president, president (1998 to 2000) and immediate past president.