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


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

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:

2013 to 2014 Paleontological Society Distinguished Lecturer

Dena Smith


Associate Professor of Geological Sciences
Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO USA
phone: +1-303-735-2011

  Fossil Insects: Exceptional Preservation and Incredible Diversification

•  Eocene Ecology: Insects, Plants and Climate Change

•  Brown Bag/Conversation - Supporting Underrepresented Students and Faculty in the Sciences

Dr. Dena Smith is a paleobiologist whose research program uses the fossil record to address a vareity of topics related to the ecology and evolution of insects. Specificaly, she studies the preservation of fossil insects, the co-evolutionary relationship between insects and plants, insect reponse to climate change and the macroevolution of beetles (Coleoptera). Dr. Smith works at very different spatial and temporal scales; conducting both in depth field-based research at targeted localities and large-scale literature based research across multiple geologic time intervals. She also conducts studies in modern ecosystems and in the lab in order to learn more about the specifics of plant-insect interactions and processes of fossilization. As one of the few Chicana (Mexcian-American) paleobiologists in the country, Dr. Smith has embraced the opportunity to work with a number of collaborators to increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students and faculty in the sciences. In addition to research presentations, she is happy to meet with students, staff, faculty and administrators to discuss issues of diversity in science as well.