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University of Wyoming
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Phone: 307-766-2379
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Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

UWyo Magazine

September 2015 | Vol. 17, No. 1

Changing the Face of Science


Through her impressive research and outreach efforts, paleontologist Ellen Currano challenges the traditional image of geoscientists.

By Micaela Myers

Changing the Face of Science - Ellen CurranoAn Illinois native, Ellen Currano knew she wanted to be a paleontologist by age 5. After a family road trip to Yellowstone National Park at age 12, she imagined herself a professor right here at the University of Wyoming. Since then, she’s been on a straight trajectory to reaching those goals.

Currano attended the University of Chicago for her undergraduate work and made her first research trip to the Big Horn Basin during a Smithsonian summer internship. She went on to earn her doctorate in geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and took a faculty position at Miami University in 2009. But in the fall of 2014, the stars aligned for her dream job as an assistant professor at UW with a joint appointment in the Department of Botany and Department of Geology and Geophysics.

Learning from our past: Wyoming has one of the best fossil records of the time period I study of anywhere in the world,” Currano says. As a paleoecologist, she uses fossil plants to investigate how environmental changes affect taxonomic diversity, ecosystem structure, plant-insect interactions and biogeographic patterns. By understanding how ecosystems reacted to past changes, we can better predict how modern ecosystems will respond to current changes.

“Here in Wyoming, I’m interested in the time period 45–65 million years ago. It’s a really warm time, and you had big climate changes, so I’m looking at how warming and high CO2 levels affect plants and the insects that feed on them.”

Earlier this year, Currano received a $450,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program Award from the National Science Foundation for her project, titled “Exploring Hothouse Ecosystems Through the Fossils of Wyoming and Colorado: A Suitable Job for a Woman.”

The Bearded Lady Project: Currano’s award includes an educational component, and she hopes to bring attention to women in the sciences, a field where they’re vastly underrepresented. For example, only 16 percent of geoscience faculty members are female.

Together with a talented photographer and a videographer, Currano is raising additional funds for “The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science.” The project will include a portrait exhibition of prominent female geoscientists posing in the field with beards. Interviews with the scientists will also be made into a documentary. It all started when Currano began thinking female scientists would be taken more seriously if they had beards and appeared more like the traditional image of a paleontologist.

“This project is reclaiming a legacy for women,” Currano says.

“This is our try at making female scientists more accessible to the general public.”

The portrait series will be on exhibition during the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in fall 2016 and will also make an appearance at the UW Geological Museum. She expects the documentary to be released sometime in 2017, and proceeds from the project will support

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The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming


About UWyo

Advertise

Subscribe

UWyo Archives

Contact Us

UWyo Magazine
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

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