Paleontologist Melanie Hopkins Awarded National Science Foundation CAREER Grant

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Melanie Hopkins, an associate curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, looking at specimens with a microscope. Associate Curator Melanie Hopkins studies the evolution of trilobites, extinct arthropods that went extinct 250 million years ago.

Melanie Hopkins, an associate curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology has been awarded a five-year CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study trilobite evolution and to lead a professional development program to help Earth science teachers in New York State use fossil field work at local sites to engage middle- and high-school students.

Hopkins will use the grant to continue her studies of the evolution of trilobites—extinct arthropods that lived for almost 270 million years until they went extinct during Earth’s largest mass extinction event, known as “the Great Dying,” 250 million years ago.

She will also develop a new initiative that will help New York State Earth science teachers, including alumni of the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Program, incorporate paleontology into Earth science curricula for middle and high school students. The program will serve approximately 50 teachers and 250 students over the five-year grant period. 

As part of the initiative, called the Earth-science Reciprocal Learning Year (EARLY), New York State science teachers will go on field excursions to local fossil dig sites to gain first-hand experience of how paleontology is practiced, with a focus on ancient marine environments and trilobite evolution. “The EARLY initiative seeks to support new teachers’ work with their students to deepen understanding of the work of scientists, build on Earth science content, and engage with teachers and students from other New York schools,” says Hopkins.

And since sites like Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve allow visitors to keep fossils they find, teachers will be able to start building paleontological teaching collections for their classrooms with specimens of New York State fossils including trilobites, brachiopods, and others.  

Teachers and students will also have a chance to participate in follow-up workshops at the Museum to examine specimens collected at Penn Dixie in a fossil lab, participate in informal discussions with scientists about their research, take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum’s fossil collection, and visit Museum halls.