Museum Mission

The Museum of Paleontology is a research and teaching unit devoted to studying the history of life. We work both by direct analysis of the fossil record and complementary studies of living organisms.

Our goal is to elucidate and document processes of evolution and extinction that are responsible for major features of life’s history. We pursue this goal by investigating environmental settings and sequences of anatomical transformation associated with the origins of major groups of organisms; by examining the relationship between biodiversity and environmental change on a range of ecological, temporal, and geographic scales; and by deciphering records of habitat and physiological change that show how organisms responded to changes in aspects of their physical environment and interactions with other organisms.

Our educational goal is to open students’ minds to the history of life on earth and inspire the next generation of paleontologists. We accomplish this by involving students in the process of discovery, by exposing them to new specimens, methods, and ideas, and by supporting their personal development with a mix of apprenticeship, mentoring, and opportunities for field experience and initiation of their own analyses.

Paleontology is profoundly interdisciplinary and can only thrive in conjunction with strong programs in geological sciences, ecology, and evolutionary biology. In turn, it contributes to these fields its perspective on how life has interacted with the solid earth and on how life’s past affects aspects of its present. 


Museum Facts

• Program Recognition: Graduate paleontology program in Earth & Environmental Sciences ranked third nationally (USN&WR 2016)

• Major Initiatives: University of Michigan Online Repository of Fossils (UMORF), a public website featuring interactive 3D models of fossil specimens; Virtual Exploration of Dioramas for Education and Outreach (VEDEO), a project for photogrammetric archiving of classic museum dioramas; The Bristle Mammoth, an open-form exhibition of new research on a hybrid mammoth excavated near Ann Arbor; Mega-Pterosaurs for the Biological Science Building, restoration of a flock of large pterosaurs for BSB’s west atrium

• Collections: Over two million specimens of vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant fossils from many parts of the world, with associated documentation (field notes, maps, thin sections, photos)

• Research Facilities: Fossil preparation/molding/casting laboratory, biomechanics laboratory, thin section facility, microCT scanner, differential GPS unit, photogrammetry and CT laboratories

• 4 Curators: (0.5 FTE ea.): T.K. Baumiller, D.C. Fisher, M.S. Friedman, J.A. Wilson, each with complementary fractions in Earth & Environmental Sciences

• 6 Affiliated Faculty: 2 emeritus curators: P.D. Gingerich, G.R. Smith - 4 research scientists: C.E. Badgley, L.M. MacLatchy, W.J. Sanders, M.L. Zelditch, most with additional joint appointments

• 5 Scientific Support Staff: C.A. Abraczinskas, S.G. Beld, A.N. Rountrey, W.J. Sanders

• Faculty Recognition: 1 Collegiate Professor; 2 Fellows of the Amer. Assoc. for the Advancement of Science; 1 Fellow of the Amer. Acad. of Arts and Sciences; 2 prior professional society Presidents; 2 Fulbright Fellowships; additional external and U-M awards

• Teaching with Collections: In academic year 2016-2017, over 625 undergraduate and graduate students had direct experience with museum collections through classes, UROP projects, or employment as research assistants

• Current External Support: In calendar year 2016, 6 active grants from the National Science Foundation (2), Leverhulme Trust (2), Evolving Earth Foundation, and Denver Mus. of Nature & Sci.

• Interdisciplinary Cooperation: Earth & Environmental Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, and associated museum units (UMMZ, UMMAA, UMH, UMMNH, and UMKM)

• Outreach: We host an active group of avocational paleontologists, the Friends of the UMMP; curators give numerous external lectures and interact extensively with the public and with staff at other museums in Michigan, nationally, and abroad