Baumgartner, an applied paleobotanist, recently joined UM's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Herbarium and is excited to return to her home state. Her academic background includes a B.S. from the Program in the Environment with a minor in biological anthropology from the University of Michigan, an M.S. in Biology from East Tennessee State University, and a Ph.D. in Geosciences from Baylor University. Baumgartner is ready to contribute her vast knowledge and skills to the EEB museum community and more broadly.

Starting her museum career as a docent at the Museum of Natural History and a fossil preparator at the Museum of Paleontology while she was an undergraduate at UM, she has spent a considerable amount of time in museum spaces over the years. During graduate school, she worked on both the public-facing and collections sides of museum operations and spent the last three years as the Paleontology Collection Manager at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History at Fort Hays State University in Kansas.

Baumgartner is passionate about her research and work, with a specific focus on leaf shape. She believes plants can teach us a lot about their environment and is particularly interested in using fossilized plants to estimate paleoclimate.

“I like to joke that I’m “a nerd about leaf shape”. Because plants can’t really walk away if the circumstances aren’t ideal, they are often mirrors of their environment. For example, we often see trees with larger leaves in wetter environments than we see in dry environments, and trees are often more likely to have toothed leaves in cooler environments than warmer environments,” said Baumgartner. “Because we can’t use a time machine to measure the temperature or precipitation in the ancient past directly, one of the best ways to estimate the paleoclimate is with fossil plants. To do that, though, we have to understand these relationships in modern plants.”

Her expertise in this area has led to her being featured on various media channels, including a local television station in Massachusetts, the local PBS affiliate in Kansas, and even a national NPR station.

Most recently, Baumgartner has been featured in the Nova series "Ancient Earth," which covers some of the dramatic events in the 4.5 billion-year history of our planet. She appears as part of the “chorus of scientists” in episode three, "Life Rising," airing Wednesday, October 18th, 2023, at 9 pm EST on PBS, where she helps to expound on how life made the transition to land and turned Earth into the green planet that we know today.

For Baumgartner, joining the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Herbarium has been a great experience. “It has been great working with Aly since her arrival at the University of Michigan Herbarium,” said Brad R. Ruhfel, research collection manager and assistant research scientist. “Her enthusiasm and experience are a great addition to our team!" Being in a world-class collection at a world-class institution is a dream come true for her, and she is excited to see what the future holds.