After heading Royal Gardens, plant scientist Crane returning to ChicagoBy Steve Koppes
Sir Peter Crane, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England, has announced that he will resign his position there to accept a faculty appointment in the University’s Department of the Geophysical Sciences and the College effective July 1, 2006.
Crane returns to Chicago to devote more time to research, teaching and writing in plant science, evolutionary biology and conservation. Before his appointment at Kew in 1999, Crane spent 17 years in Chicago. A former curator in the geology department, vice president for academic affairs and then director of the Field Museum, he also served as a Professor in Geophysical Sciences and Lecturer in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at Chicago.
Crane’s appointment as the Marion and John Sullivan University Professor will bolster an already first-rank faculty in evolutionary paleobiology, said David Rowley, Professor and Chairman of the Geophysical Sciences Department.
“In my view, Peter Crane’s appointment unequivocally establishes the University of Chicago as having no peers anywhere in the world in the fields of evolutionary paleobiology and the broader areas of evolutionary biology,” Rowley said. “His research is rooted in the long tradition of expanding our understanding of evolution through the discovery and careful description of fossils. He has dramatically expanded the influence of this tradition by initiating several revolutionary advances that have put him at the forefront of evolutionary biology.”
Crane said leaving Kew was a difficult decision, but he is delighted to be returning to the city where he built a career and where family and friends reside.
“The University of Chicago has the most influential group of evolutionary biologists and paleontologists anywhere in the world,” Crane said. “I look forward to working with them and my other colleagues at the University and in the community.”
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, Kew Gardens holds the world’s largest collection of living plants, with more than seven million specimens. Kew employs more than 650 scientists and other staff, and its Millennium Seed Bank project has developed partners in 17 nations to secure the long-term conservation of more than 20,000 plant species.
Kew’s vast, newly created electronic databases disperse knowledge throughout the scientific world, and its staff collaborate with local communities and specialists in more than 40 overseas countries on conservation and biodiversity projects. Back at Kew and its country estate, Wakehurst Place, attendance has increased during Crane’s tenure from 1.1 million in 1999-2000 to a projected 1.8 million in 2005-2006.
In addition to overseeing Kew’s operations, Crane has continued his own research, integrating studies of living and fossil plants to understand the large-scale patterns and processes of evolution. He is the author of more than 100 scientific publications, including several books on plant evolution.
He holds academic appointments in the Department of Botany at the University of Reading, the Department of Geology at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and the Department of Biological Sciences at Imperial College.
He was elected to the Royal Society in 1998 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. He was knighted in 2004 for services to horticulture and conservation.