Two MU paleontology professors each receive $500,000 National Science Foundation grants | Education

Among the products of two $500,000 National Science Foundation grants received by University of Missouri faculty members will be a Cambrian Period coloring book for schoolchildren and a study of the fossil record of the MU Columns.

But in-depth research is the main goal of the grants. John Huntley and Jim Schiffbauer, assistant professors of geological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science, each received the National Science Foundations Faculty Career Development Award, for which each will receive more than $500,000 for their projects over the next five years.

Huntley said his research will focus on interactions between parasites and hosts.

“When sea level starts to rise, parasite prevalence goes through the roof,” Huntley said. He said that occurred among clams and other invertebrates during the Holocene Epoch around 11,700 years ago.

“We’re at a time now of sea level rise,” he said, and his research will try to determine if a similar parasite increase might be expected.

“The parasites themselves don’t fossilize,” Huntley said. Instead, their effects can be observed on the shells of clams.

“It’s not the simple rise in sea level itself” that caused the parasites to increase. He said temperature, water salinity and nutrients in the water also might have come into play.

Huntley said he would use a finely-focused laser in the MU Research Reactor and other equipment to analyze the chemistry of the shell fossils to try to determine the conditions during which the parasites thrived.

For the education component of the grant, Huntley said, he will develop a one-hour credit course for non-science majors on the fossil record in the MU Columns.

The material from which the columns were manufactured was “made about 350 million years ago,” Huntley said. He said the course would be offered beginning next spring semester.

“We’ll take the course…

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