The department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at The University of New Mexico presents the 2nd annual Stuart A. Northrop Distinguished Lecturer: Susannah Porter, who will give a lecture titled “Tiny Vampires and Living Fossils: The Record of Early Life in The Grand Canyon” at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 6 at Northrop Hall room 122. Reception to follow in Silver Family Geology Museum.
Porter became a professor and vice chair in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara after completing a one-year NASA astrobiology post-doctoral fellowship at UCLA. She received her bachelor's degree in Mathematics from Yale University in 1995 and her Ph.D. in biology at Harvard University in 2002.
In this talk, Porter will discuss evidence from her work on microfossils from the ~770–730 Ma Chuar Group of the Grand Canyon. For most of its >3.5 billion year history on Earth, life has been microbial, dominated by Bacteria and Archaea (i.e. the “prokaryotes”, cells that lack nuclei). Human ancestors, the first eukaryotes (cells characterized by a nucleus and organelles such as mitochondria), appeared only ca. 1600 million years ago (Ma), and large, multicellular forms, including animals and seaweed, diversified only very recently, beginning around 600 Ma.
Porter’s research focuses on the early diversification and ecological expansion of eukaryotes during the Mesoproterozoic (1600–1000 Ma) and Neoproterozoic eras (1000–541 Ma), when evidence is seen increased in protistan diversity, the first appearance of mineralized skeletons, an increase in the relative contribution of eukaryotic algae to primary productivity, and the first few ‘experiments’ in eukaryotic multicellularity.
Porter currently studies the early fossil record of animals and their protistan relatives and has worked on problems relating to the evolution of skeletal biomineralization, the influence of snowball Earth glaciations on the biosphere, the early evolution of eukaryotes, and the Cambrian diversification of animals.
Lovejoy is professor emeritus of biology at Georgia Southern University, who influenced generations of students with his own teaching and research. Lovejoy was born in a small Ohio town coming from four generations of coal miners and became a first generation college graduate. After serving in the Navy, he attended Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where he majored in geology. A month later he boarded a bus for Albuquerque and UNM where he earned a master’s degree in geology.
Lovejoy worked as a geologist for Shell Oil Company in Midland Texas, then after six years enrolled at OSU to pursue a Ph.D. in zoology. Lovejoy has had three interesting and satisfying careers: geologist, biologist and teacher.
The Stuart A. Northrop Distinguished Lecture Series, launched in 2016 through a generous donation by Bill Lovejoy (UNM Alumnus and former student of Northrop), honors former EPS professor and chair Stuart ‘Stu’ Alvord Northrop. Northrop’s contributions to the UNM Department of Geology during his long tenure as chairman (1929-1961) were profound.
Northrop laid the foundation of the present department, including the creation of the MS and Ph.D. programs and the construction of the department's building, which now bears his name. He was a kind and generous scholar and teacher, always ready to share his vast knowledge of New Mexico geology. The legacy he Ieft his students, colleagues and the State of New Mexico is a large one.