archive: SETI [ASTRO] J. John Sepkoski Jr., 1948-1999

SETI [ASTRO] J. John Sepkoski Jr., 1948-1999

Larry Klaes ( )
Wed, 05 May 1999 13:42:06 -0400

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>Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 15:50:44 GMT
>From: Ron Baalke <>
>Subject: [ASTRO] J. John Sepkoski Jr., 1948-1999
>Reply-To: Ron Baalke <>
>May 4, 1999
>For immediate release
>Contact: Steve Koppes
> (773) 702-8366
> Paleontologist J. John Sepkoski Jr., 1948-1999
> University of Chicago paleontologist J. John Sepkoski Jr.,
>whose work has had innovative and far-reaching impact on the
>scientific understanding of the fossil record and the diversification
>of animal life throughout much of Earth's history, died Saturday, May
>1, of sudden heart failure related to high blood pressure. He was
> "Paleobiology is a small profession, so when we lose one of
>our very greatest, it's really a tremedously painful experience,"
>said Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, with whom
>Sepkoski studied as a graduate student. "Jack was one of the leading
>lights of the profession."
> One of Sepkoski's major contributions was quantifying the
>nature of life's diversity through time, said Douglas Erwin, a
>research paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington,
>D.C., and editor of the journal Paleobiology. "He exhaustively
>documented the ups and downs of life through the last 600 million
>years. By collecting the data and developing a series of statistical
>methods to study it, he gave us a new way of understanding the
>history of life in the oceans.."
> During the 1980s and 1990s, there were many meetings of
>paleontologists during which literally every speaker used a figure
>from Sepkoski's work, Erwin said. "His contributions were fundamental
>to everything that people were doing," he said.
> Sepkoski's death was a huge loss for paleontology, said
>University of Chicago paleontologist David Jablonski. "Jack was
>extremely generous with his ideas and for that matter with the huge
>database that he spent decades compiling. His combined approach of
>mathematical modelling, paleoecology and massive data arrays really
>changed the way we do paleontology," Jablonski said.
> His work is discussed in the book Mystery of Mysteries: Is
>Evolution a Social Construction? by Michael Ruse, published this year
>by Harvard University Press. "One of the first chapters is on Charles
>Darwin and one of the last chapters is on Jack," Jablonski said.
> During the 1980s, using rigorous statistical analyses of the
>fossil record, Sepkoski and his Chicago colleague David Raup put
>forth the controversial theory that catastrophic extinctions of
>marine animals may have occurred approximately every 26 million years
>during the past 250 million years of Earth's history. These periodic
>events also included the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years
>ago. The extinctions previously were thought to have been random
> The theory helped open the possibility that mass extinctions
>both on land and in the oceans were caused by some force external to
>Earth, such as catastrophic comet and asteroid impacts of the type
>that inspired the films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon" and inspired
>the popular Shriekback song "Nemesis." These findings prompted a
>major interdisciplinry research effort on extinction events in the
>fossil record.
> The exact cause of periodic extinctions remains a mystery.
>"The theory has been under attack, but I don't hink anyone's been
>able to disprove it," said Sepkoski's wife, Christine M. Janis, a
>Brown University paleontologist.
> Sepkoski's taste in music was as unconventional as some of
>his scientific theories. His favorite musical group was the punk rock
>Sex Pistols. "He thought that the Velvet Underground album was the
>best album of all time," Janis said.
> Sepkoski was born July 26, 1948, in Presque Isle, Maine. "He
>started collecting dinosaur bones and fossils in New Jersey when he
>was 10 and had wanted to become a paleontologist since that time,"
>said his former wife, Maureen Meter.
> He earned his B.S. degree, magna cum laude, from the
>University of Notre Dame in 1970 and his Ph.D. in geological sciences
>from Harvard University in 1977. His Ph.D. research was on the field
>geology and paleontology of South Dakota's Black Hills.
> He taught at the University of Rochester from 1974 to 1978
>first as an instructor, then as an assistant professor. He was
>appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Geophysical
>Sciences at the University of Chicago in 1978. Sepkoski attained the
>rank of Associate Professor in 1982 and Professor in 1986. He also
>had been a research associate at the Field Museum of Natural History
>in Chicago since 1980.
> Sepkoski held visiting professorships at the California
>Institute of Technology in 1986 and at Harvard Uniersity in 1990 and
>1991. In 1988, Sepkoski visited the University of California at Los
>Angeles as a senior fellow and lectured at the Polish Academy of
>Sciences, where he was elected a foreign member.
> The Paleontological Society bestowed its Charles Schuchert
>Award upon Sepkoski in 1983. He served a term as the society's
>president from 1995 to 1996 and founded the Paleontological Society
>International Research Program, or PalSIRP, the society's program for
>assisting paleontologists in the countires of the former Soviet Union
>through small competitive grants.
> He was co-editor of the journal Paleobiology, regarded as the
>major journal of his field, from 1983 to 1986 and a member of its
>editorial board from 1987 to 1989.
> "Jack was admired by his family, friends and colleagues not
>only for the brilliance of his research, but also for his untiring
>devotion to scholarship and teaching," said Mike Foote, a University
>of Chicago paleontologist. He taught popular, large-enrollment
>courses in the University's Core curriculum, advanced undergradaute
>courses in paleontology, and demanding, advanced graduate courses. He
>took great satisfaction in mentoring and advising students and
>colleagues, as well, Foote said.
> When Sepkoski led paleontological field trips for
>undergraduate and graduate students over the years, his son, David,
>was a frequent companion. David Sepkoski went on to receive an M.A.
>degree from the University of Chicago and is a doctoral student in
>the history of science at the University of Minnesota.
> He is survived by his wife, Christine M. Janis of Providence,
>R.I.; his son, David Sepkoski of Minneapolis, Minn.; his father,
>Joseph J. Sepkoski of Sparta, N.J.; two sisters, Carol Sepkoski of
>Cambridge, Mass., and Diane Karl of Cedar Brook, N.J.; and his former
>wife, Maureen Meter of Chicago. Sepkoski also had a dog, Ronnie.
> Arrangements for a memorial service are pending. In lieu of
>flowers, donations may be made to PalSIRP, c/o Dr. Thomas W. Kammer,
>Treasurer, Paleontological Society, Dept. of Geology and Geography,
>West Virginia University, P.O. Box 6300, Morgantown, WV 26506-6300.
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