The Verrill Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the curators of the Peabody Museum. The award was created in 1959 by then director S. Dillon Ripley to honor “signal practitioners in the arts of natural history and natural sciences.” The award is named for Addison Emery Verrill, Yale’s first professor of zoology and one of the Peabody’s first curators. Verrill described more than 1,000 species across virtually every major taxonomic group during a long and illustrious career.
Since the award’s inception, there have been just 18 recipients of the Verrill Medal. In a ceremony on November 4th, honoring a tradition established in 1966 at the Peabody’s 100th anniversary, the Museum will present the Verrill Medal to four researchers who are pillars in their field. Following the ceremony, the recipients will discuss the future of natural history museum collections in a panel discussion moderated by Dame Alison Richard, the Franklin Muzzy Crosby Professor Emerita of the Human Environment and former director, Yale Peabody Museum; former provost, Yale University; and former vice-chancellor, University of Cambridge. The program is free and open to the public.
The Verrill Medals will be awarded on November 4th to May Berenbaum, the Swanlund Chair and Head of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Naomi Pierce, the Hessel Professor of Biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University; Neil Shubin, the Robert Bensley Distinguished Service Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago; and Geerat Vermeij, Distinguished Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California at Davis.
These four medalists will also be featured in the Verrill Medal Symposium the following day at the Peabody Museum.
May Berenbaum (’75) is the Swanlund Chair of Entomology at the University of Illinois. She elucidates chemical mechanisms underlying interactions between insects and their host plants, including detoxification of natural and synthetic chemicals. She uses her findings to apply ecological principles to develop sustainable management practices for natural and agricultural communities. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she has chaired two National Research Council committees, the Committee on the Future of Pesticides in U.S. Agriculture, and the Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America. Devoted to fostering scientific literacy beyond formal classrooms, Dr. Berenbaum has authored numerous magazine articles and six popular books about insects. She graduated from Yale summa cum laude, with a BS degree and honors in biology, and received a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University.
Naomi Pierce (’76) is the Hessel Professor of Biology at Harvard University. A world authority on butterflies, she is the curator of lepidoptera in Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Research in her laboratory focuses on the ecology and evolution of species interactions, ranging from field studies measuring the costs and benefits of symbioses between ants and other organisms, to genetic analyses of biochemical signaling pathways underlying interactions between plants, pathogens and insects. Dr. Pierce has also been involved in reconstructing the evolutionary ‘Tree of life’ of insects such as ants, bees, and butterflies, and in using molecular phylogenies to make comparative studies of life history evolution and biogeographical distributions. Pierce earned her BS in biology at Yale and her PhD in biology at Harvard. She has been a MacArthur Fellow, popularly known as the ‘genius’ grant.
Neil Shubin is the Robert Bensley Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. His research has focused on the evolution of new organs, especially limbs. He uses his diverse fossil findings to devise hypotheses about the genetic and developmental processes that led to anatomical transformations. One of his most significant discoveries, the 375-million-year-old Tiktaalik roseae fossil, is an important transitional form between fish and land animals. Dr. Shubin has conducted fieldwork in Greenland, China, Canada, Africa, and much of North America and has discovered some of the earliest mammals, crocodiles, dinosaurs, frogs and salamanders in the fossil record. He is the author of two popular science books — The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body (2013) and the best-selling Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008), named best book of the year by the National Academy of Sciences. He earned his PhD in organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011.
Geerat Vermeij (PhD ’71), Distinguished Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California at Davis, has transformed the field of evolutionary biology and advanced the field of paleo-biology by addressing the profound influences organisms have on each other's evolutionary histories. He is perhaps best known for his work documenting the arms race among long-extinct mollusks and their predators. In a desire to make science assessable to all segments of society, Dr. Vermeij shares his knowledge with others in the highly acclaimed PBS series “The Shape of Life.” His research continues to inspire not only established practitioners of science and budding conchologists, but also the blind as he has been blind since the age of three. He earned a BS from Princeton University and his PhD in biology and geology from Yale. He is the recipient of the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal by the National Academy of Sciences and in 1992 was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.