The Jackson School’s paleontology program is distinguished by its diverse and active faculty, modern equipment, and extensive reference collection. It has perennially been considered one of the top paleontology programs in the nation.
Paleontological research at the Jackson School is motivated by several overarching questions: What were the causes and mechanisms for change in major lineages represented in the fossil record? What is the evolutionary history of lineages such as echinoderms, reptiles, and mammals? How can we use the fossil record and phylogenetic hypotheses to test current theories, and make predictions about potential consequences of current global-change phenomena?
Vertebrate paleontologists in the Jackson School focus on the evolutionary morphology of vertebrates, evolutionary ecology (recent and ancient), phylogenetic systematics, and the evolution of development. A major tool in this work is a high resolution computer-aided tomography scanner for 3D imaging of fossil vertebrates.
Invertebrate paleontologists in the Jackson School focus on the development of early Paleozoic echinoderms. This includes trying to determine the origin, early evolutionary history, paleoecology and closest relatives of the earliest crinoids in the Early Ordovician based on new collections from the Rocky Mountains. Researchers are also looking at the expansion of all types of echinoderms during the Cambrian Explosion and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.
There is also interest among the School’s invertebrate paleontologists in relationships between organisms over time, especially within reef environments. Rudists, a type of extinct bivalve important in reef environments, are a particular focus of interest. Researchers explore the connections between changes in major reef-building organisms through time to better understand how conditions in the global ocean changed. Because they provide a unique long term perspective, the University’s extensive fossil collections are used by researchers to relate ancient to modern climate changes.
| My current research addresses the past evolution of impact crater lakes on Mars, Earth, and elsewhere with fieldwork, satellite observations and landscape modelling.|
MSc or PhD StudentGraduate
Our team is almost always interested in recruiting new graduate students who are interested in paleoecology, marine communities, carbonate sedimentology, and/or geobiology.
Posted by: Rowan Martindale
Undergraduate Research: Inclusive Geoscience Education and Research Environmental Reconstruction in Holocene Estuaries on the Modern Texas Continental ShelfGraduate - 1 year
Sea level rise is one of the most pressing impacts of climate change facing coastal communities. A variety of mitigation efforts on the local and regional level (beach nourishment, marsh restoration, coastal barriers, etc.) can provide some measure of protection for coastal communities. These large engineering projects require huge quantities of sand to complete, and sand is not as common on the seafloor as you might expect. On northern Texas shelf, offshore Galveston Bay, a few sand banks exist, but much more material is buried in drowned river valleys, which were carved by rivers when sea level was ~120 meters lower and dry land extended all the way to the edge of the continental shelf. These rivers deposited sand in point bars, which were then buried in estuarine mud as sea level rose and the river valley became a bay. Sand was also deposited in this estuary as bay head deltas, flood tide deltas, and over wash fans. UT is currently involved in an extensive project to find and map (using seismic surveying and sediment cores) the extent of Holocene sand deposits in the Trinity and Sabine river valleys offshore modern Galveston Bay. For this project, the REU student will conduct grain size analysis on sediment cores collected offshore Galveston Bay to determine the overall sedimentology and stratigraphy of these environments. This student will also use marine microfossils (benthic foraminifera) to determine the depositional environment of the muds deposited in between the sand deposits to determine the overall environmental evolution of the Holocene estuary system. This work will help identify sand resources for future coastal protection projects in the Galveston area. This work will also help reconstruct the history of the Holocene estuary and barrier island system; understanding how ancient barrier island systems responded to different rates of sea level rise during the Holocene can help constrain how barrier islands will respond to similar rates of sea level rise today. This project will involve work on a Malvern Mastersizer laser grain size analyzer, managing grain size datasets, and microfossil picking on a microscope. Prior experience with any of these things is not required. Apply through the Champions of Diversity website: https://jsg-gen.squarespace.com/mentee-application
Posted by: Christopher Lowery
Research Triassic vertebrates (Paleontology)Undergraduate
Undergraduates interested in Triassic vertebrates of Texas and the Colorado Plateau!! Get involved with new research including digital segmentation of CT-scanned specimens from Petrified Forest National Park and the University of Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections, preparation of vertebrate fossils collected by the WPA in the early 1900s, and photographic documentation of those materials. Opportunities exist for students to develop independent research related to the main questions associated with this project. Projects begin in the Fall, 2022 semester. Interested students should contact Will Reyes (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chris Bell (email@example.com).
Posted by: Christopher Bell
Research Phillips Cave fossils (Paleontology)Undergraduate
Dedicated, enthusiastic undergraduate student(s) sought to help work on fossils from Phillips Cave in Crockett County, Texas. Student(s) will help with screen-washing, sorting, identifying, and curating vertebrate fossils from Ice-Age sediments in the cave. Students will learn aspects of the anatomy of the vertebrate skeleton as they contribute to broadening our understanding of vertebrate paleobiogeography on the Edwards Plateau. The project is under way and volunteers can be brought on board immediately. Interested students should contact Stacie Skwarcan (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chris Bell (email@example.com).
Posted by: Christopher Bell
Research Inner-Space Cavern fossils (Paleontology)Undergraduate
Dedicated, enthusiastic undergraduate student(s) sought to help work on fossils from Inner Space Cavern in Williamson County, Texas. Student(s) will help with screen-washing, sorting, identifying, and curating vertebrate fossils from Ice-Age sediments in the cave. Students will learn aspects of the anatomy of the vertebrate skeleton as they contribute to studying patterns of vertebrate diversity through time in the context of climate change. Potential opportunities exist for motivated students to pursue independent supervised research related to the main questions associated with this project. Projects begin in the Fall, 2022 semester. Interested students should contact John Moretti (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chris Bell (email@example.com).
Posted by: Christopher Bell
The Center for Planetary Systems Habitability is an interdisciplinary research center at UT and is the result of a partnership between the Jackson School, the College of Natural Sciences, and the Cockrell School of Engineering. The center advances our ability to search for life on other planets by collaborating on research that helps better understand where habitable zones develop and how they evolve within planetary systems.
The High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility at The University of Texas at Austin (UTCT) is a national shared multi-user facility supported by the Instrumentation and Facilities Program of NSF's Earth Sciences (EAR) directorate. UTCT offers scientific researchers across the earth, biological and engineering sciences access to a completely nondestructive technique for visualizing features in the interior of opaque solid objects, and for obtaining digital information on their 3D geometries and properties.
NPL was created in 1999 as an answer to the increasing conservation and curation issues developing with the huge increase in collection size. Collections placed in the care of TNSC mainly were derived from research at the BEG, the UTDGS and the Museum (TMM) itself. Other material came from orphaned collections within Texas. Numerous other collections have been contributed as donations. Although an exact count has never been made, the collection is estimated to contain about 4 million specimens.
The mission of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory is three-fold, involving research, conservation, and education pertaining to the history of vertebrates. In particular, VPL focuses on the history of vertebrates in Texas and adjacent regions, but much broader studies are also conducted to establish a national and global context for Texas vertebrate history.
Affiliated UT Programs & Centers
The Environmental Science Institute is a multi-disciplinary institute for basic scientific research in environmental studies founded by The University of Texas at Austin. The Institute serves as a focal point on campus for a wide scope of interdisciplinary research and teaching involving the complex interactions of the biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere in the Earth system, as well as the human dimensions of these interactions.