Each spring, the Paleontological Research Institution is proud to recognize a nonprofessional for outstanding contributions to the field of paleontology. It is with great pleasure that PRI presents its 2011 Katherine Palmer Award to Charles Ray Newsom.

The Katherine Palmer Award is named for PRI’s second director, Katherine van Winkle Palmer, who held avocational paleontologists in high regard and collaborated with many during her long career. PRI has presented this award almost every year since 1993. We are especially grateful to the Mid-America Paleontological Society for providing us with a very special venue at which to present this award over much of that time.

Paula Mikkelsen and Charles Ray Newsom

2011 Katherine Palmer Award recipient Charles Ray Newsom, with Paula Mikkelsen (left) of Paleontological Research Institution.

Dr. Charles Newsom is an Associate Professor of Physics in the University of Iowa’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. He received his Bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Texas. His field of research is experimental high-energy particle physics. He is author or co-author on more than 130 publications in this field.

However, Charles is equally well-known as an avid and knowledgeable fossil collector, specializing in oysters of the genus Pycnodonte and Exogyra, scallops of the genus Chesapecten, and Paleozoic cephalopods. He is an active member of the Mid-America Paleontology Society, serving as a Board Member and as the resident expert in “Stump the Expert” workshops at the annual MAPS Expo.

Charles began collecting fossils as a high school student in Texas, and he has continued collecting wherever he happens to be ever since. Among his fossiliferous credentials, Charles is a Research Fellow at the Texas Natural Science Center in Austin, Texas. He has worked closely with the curators and collection managers there and at the University of Iowa Paleontology Repository for the past twenty years, making frequent donations of specimens with detailed documentation, creating websites, and offering his broad knowledge of Cretaceous oysters and Paleozoic cephalopods, as well as best practices in collecting and collections care. He has also donated his well-prepared specimens to PRI and other repositories.

Charles was nominated for this award by Ann Molineux (University of Texas at Austin) and by Tiffany Adrain and Nancy Budd (University of Iowa). They perhaps best described the value of Charles’ contributions as follows:

“Charles’ collections are stratigraphic in nature, representing complete faunas whether or not the specimens are perfect. This provides excellent material for faunal and stratigraphic studies. His collections are meticulously documented including with locality global position (GPS) information, photographs and audio/video, locality faunal lists and stratigraphic sketches, making his collection documentation better than many museum collections! Charles encourages other fossil collectors to record information similarly which is crucial for preserving the research value of collections that may be donated to museums in the future. His Midwest collections, which he is in the process of donating to the UI Paleontology Repository, contain over 20,000 specimens from more than 100 Midwest localities. Charles also collects with teaching in mind and develops specific collections that can be used as classroom study sets. Charles spends many hours of his spare time curating his collections (organizing, labeling and storing) and identifying and preparing specimens, and is a talented preparator.”

Charles is currently working on three paleontological research projects:

  • Texas oysters for a book with John Emerson
  • Lower Cretaceous exogyrids of Texas for a paper with Bernard Yurke, Jim Preslicka, and Niko Malchus
  • Devonian Cedar Valley cephalopods of Iowa with Jed Day (Illinois State University) and Brian Witzke (Iowa Geological Survey). As part of this project he recently produced a paper on Cephalopods of the Lower Cedar Valley Group with Jim Preslicka, Tom Blume, and Glen Rocca for the 2010 Geological Society of Iowa Guidebook.

The last project highlights Charles’ interest in and ability to bring together amateur collectors, professional paleontologists, and students. It is a collaboration between the Blackhawk Gem and Mineral Club, a local quarry, the University of Iowa Repository, and faculty and students from the UI Department of Geoscience. Using one more quote from the nominators, “His ethical, responsible, and respectful approach to fossil collecting makes [Charles] a role model for any fossil collector, professional or amateur.”

PRI is pleased to present this year’s Katherine Palmer Award to Charles Newsom.