UCLA paleobiologist J. William Schopf is being honored by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) with its Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences, presented this year with the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal. He will be honored in a ceremony on April 28 during the academy’s annual meeting.
He is being recognized for his studies of the microscopic fossils that represent the earliest forms of life on Earth and for his "generous and inspirational leadership of large, collaborative research groups." These ‘Precambrian Paleobiology Research Groups’ bring together scientists from many scientific disciplines to produce new ideas and knowledge. "Their work has stimulated countless further studies of the earliest history of life on Earth," according the the NAS. The Walcott Medal, presented every five years, recognizes contributions to research on Cambrian or Precambrian life.
A professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Schopf has revealed a vast ancient fossil record that has led to a comprehensive understanding of life’s ancient history, from the formation of the Earth 4.6 billion years ago to evolutionary events such as the earliest living organism, the development of the atmosphere and oceans, and the patterns of cell division and sexual reproduction.
More recently, Schopf became the first scientist to use two innovative techniques — confocal laser scanning microscopy and Raman spectroscopy — to look at microscopic fossils inside ancient rocks to search for organic cell walls and other signs of life without destroying the rocks or their tiny, entombed fossils.
Schopf was also awarded the 2012 Paleontological Society Medal, the society’s most prestigious honor. Schopf’s father, the late James M. Schopf, a professor of paleobotany at Ohio State University, was also awarded the same honor in 1978. They were the first father and son to have earned this distinction.
The National Academy of Sciences is a prestigious, private, nonprofit institution established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.