The Paleontological Society

Photo courtesy of the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History


The Paleontological Society is proud to support the Distinguished Lecturer Program, with the goal of bringing outstanding scientists to colleges, universities, and public events to speak about cutting-edge paleontological research, evolution, and the nature of science.  The long history of life on our planet offers countless opportunities to explore the mechanisms and fascinating consequences of evolution, extinction, and ecosystem change.  The response of the world’s biota to global climate change has become an important issue today, and paleontologists can provide an important perspective on this from research in the deep-time record.  Through this program, we hope to increase the visibility of paleontological research and to communicate its unique insights to the community at large.

We support three lecturers each year on rotating, two-year terms.  Each is known as an excellent speaker who communicates the interest and importance of his or her work in paleontology especially well to both academic and public audiences.  Speakers offer talks appropriate to a general, non-specialist audience and talks geared to academic disciplinary fields.  Current speakers are listed below, with their subject areas and contact information.

The Distinguished Lecturers have agreed to make themselves available on an expenses-only basis; no honorarium is required.  The Society provides up to $400 toward speaker travel to give lectures.  The host institution is expected to cover on-site expenses, including meals and lodging.  Travel support is currently available on a first-come, first served basis, but this process may be amended if demand is high. To request a speaker, contact that individual directly using the information below. 

Paleontology is a dynamic discipline that offers unique perspectives on our place in the world and important implications for current and future events.  The Paleontological Society encourages academic departments, community organizations, K-12 teacher programs, and other groups to take advantage of this opportunity to explore the deep and rich history of life on this planet and what we can learn from it.  If you have questions about this program, please feel free to contact Peter Wilf at

Peter Wilf
Councilor-at-Large, The Paleontological Society
Associate Professor of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University


2015 to 2016 Paleontological Society Distinguished Lecturer


Vice President for Collections and Associate Curator of Vertebrate ZoologyPatricia Kelley's photo
Academy of Natural Sciences
Associate Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, Drexel University
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway,
Philadelphia, PA 19103 USA
Phone: (215) 299-1133

•  Cold, Hard Science: New Fossil Discoveries in the High Arctic

•  Great Steps in the History of Life: The Origin of Limbed Vertebrates

• Tiktaalik roseae (Tetrapodomorpha, Elpistostegalia) and the Origin of Limbed Vertebrates

Ted Daeschler has been a vertebrate paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia since 1987. He currently also serves as Vice-President for Collections at the Academy, and as an Associate Professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science at Drexel University. His paleontological exploration and research on Devonian-age fossils from Pennsylvania and the high Canadian Arctic spans more than two decades. Ted Daeschler and his colleagues have discovered a wide diversity of fossil material from the Catskill Formation in north-central Pennsylvania including the earliest known limbed vertebrates in North America. Those discoveries are placed in the context of the evolution of early terrestrial ecosystems to better understand the ecological settings during this important phase of vertebrate diversification. Daeschler and his colleagues have also organized and carried-out an ambitious paleontological project to search for Devonian-age fossils high above the Arctic Circle in the Nunavut Territory of Arctic Canada. Among the discoveries there was Tiktaalik roseae, an animal that lived 375 million years ago and is a textbook transitional fossil between finned and limbed vertebrates. His presentations will incorporate the methods of fossil discovery and the science behind this research program in vertebrate paleontology.

For more information, see


2009 to 2015 Paleontological Society Distinguished Lecturer
on Evolution and Society

Patricia Kelley's photo


Professor, Department of Earth Sciences
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
601 South College Road
Wilmington, NC 28403-5944
Phone: (910) 962-7406     Fax: (910) 962-7077

•  Teaching Evolution with Integrity and Sensitivity

•  Evolution and Creation: Conflicting of Compatible?

• The Arms Race from a Snail's Perspective: Evolution of the Naticid Gastropod Predator - Prey System

Dr. Kelley was recently elected to be a Centennial Fellow of the Paleontological Society.  As a Distinguished Lecturer, Dr. Kelley seeks to bridge the divide between acknowledgment — even celebration — of the reality of evolution and beliefs maintained by the great religious traditions.  She is eager to participate in workshops designed for teachers AND IS ALSO AVAILABLE TO PRESENT PUBLIC LECTURES OR RESEARCH SEMINARS. Dr. Kelley’s own research focuses on the evolution and paleoecology of Cenozoic molluscs from the southeastern United States.  She is especially interested in predator-prey interactions and their role in the evolution of strategies that are employed by snails to capture prey and by clams and snails to avoid predation. 

For more information, see


2013 to 2015 Paleontological Society Distinguished Lecturer

Nick Pyenson


Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals
Department of Paleobiology
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
MRC 121, PO Box 37012
10th & Constitution NW
Washington, DC 20013-7012 USA
Tel: 202-633-1366
Fax: 202-786-2832

* The life and death of whales: new discoveries of world's largest animals

* Cetaceans in silico: 3D digitizing a fossil whale graveyard in the Atacama of Chile

* The evolution of marine mammals and the many returns to seas

Nick Pyenson is a vertebrate paleontologist whose research focuses on major land-to-sea ecological transitions in the past 245 million years. In this span of geologic time, many different lineages of reptiles and mammals -- whales, sea cows, mosasaurs, and turtles, for example -- have independently entered the oceans, showing both common patterns and unique solutions to the challenges of living the life aquatic. To understand how and why these ecological transitions have happened, Nick has participated in paleontological fieldwork on every continent except Antarctica. He also leads active field programs on Vancouver Island in Canada, and with South American collaborators in the Atacama Desert of Chile. Nick is especially interested in growing public appreciation for natural patrimony and fossil resources, especially using digital tools that can expand fieldwork, outreach and natural history collections at the same time. Also, Nick’s work highlights how living marine tetrapods, such as sea turtles, penguins, and marine mammals, are ready-made vehicles for enhancing a deeper understanding of basic education in evolutionary biology and earth sciences. For more information, see his lab’s blog: