IVPP's Professor Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
ZHANG Miman (Meemann Chang), Professor of Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, Member of Chinese Academy of Sciences, was recently elected to the position of Foreign Member to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is an independent, non-governmental organization responsible for, among other things, the annual nomination and selection of Nobel laureates in the fields of physics and chemistry. Today, the Academy has about 420 Swedish and 175 foreign members distributed among ten research fields. To be elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy is a singular recognition of the research efforts of an outstanding scientist.
Dr. Zhang, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, born in Nanjing in 1936, is a native of Sheng Xian County, Zhejiang Province. She graduated from Moscow University in 1960 and received her Ph. D. from Stockholm University in 1982. She has since been a research professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She was the director of the institute from 1983 to 1991, president of the International Paleontological Association from 1992 to 1996, and president of the Paleontological Society of China from 1993 to 1997. In 1991, she was elected as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She has been a scientist-in-residence at a number of leading universities and natural history museums in Sweden, the U.S.A., the United Kingdom, and Japan. She was elected a foreign member of the Linnaean Society of London in 1995 and an honorary member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1997.
Zhang has spent years studying the fish faunas and paleoenvironments of the sedimentary basins in China's eastern coastal provinces. Her research covers broad areas of taxonomy, phylogeny, zoogeography, paleoecology, and biostratigraphy of the late Mesozoic and Cenozoic (from approximately 130 to 50 million years before present) fish faunas. These faunas are quite characteristic and consist predominantly of primitive teleosts or higher bony fishes, some of which may be ancestral types of the modern groups. Based on her studies of fossil fishes, she determined the age and paleoenvironment of the fossil-bearing deposits. The results have important implications to oil explorations and have been embraced by the oil-field geologists. However, Zhang's most important contributions to science have been her studies of the cranial anatomy of the earliest sarcopterygians (lobe-finned fishes and tetrapods) from the Early Devonian deposits of Eastern Yunnan Province, namely Youngolepis and Diabolepis. Using serial thin sectioning and enlarged wax models, she investigated in exquisite detail the fine structures of fishes that lived about 400 million years ago. This is the classic Stockholm School at its best and Zhang's benchmark studies on sarcopterygians have drawn widespread lauds. Her studies have furthered our understandings of early evolutionary history of vertebrates and origin of tetrapods.
In her current studies, Zhang is working to understand the species distribution pattern of fish across the Pacific Ocean — a distribution that reached its maximum during the Eocene epoch, between 34 million and 56 million years ago. Most of these fish became extinct in the western Pacific, she notes, but a few, such as the coelacanth, still survive in the eastern Pacific. "Tracing the origins and distribution of these fish is a very exciting endeavour," she says.
Zhang's contributions to science are not limited to her field of research. She has also shown herself to be a tough, fair, and effective administrator, a charismatic academic ambassador and a highly regarded leader in the international paleontological community.
Professor ZHANG Miman (Meemann Chang), new foreign member of the Academy's Class for biosciences and for outstanding services to science.