Meemann Chang (ZHANG Miman), a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, will receive an honorary degree from the University of Chicago during the 507th Convocation Ceremony on Saturday, June 11, 2011, as announced by UchicagoNews today.
At the University of Chicago, nominations for honorary degrees submitted each year by schools and divisions or their departments, are reviewed and approved by the Committee on Honorary Degrees and by the Council of the University Senate, and are finally confirmed by the Board of Trustees. The University’s statutes dictate that honorary degrees are granted for specific achievements in “… such fields as scholarship, discovery, or administration.”
Meeman Chang, who will receive the degree Doctor of Science, 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, an honorary member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1997, and a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 2011.
Chang 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 in China and have been embraced by the oil-field geologists. However, Chang'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 Chang's benchmark studies on sarcopterygians have drawn widespread lauds. Her work changed the way paleontologists viewed lungfish —from an odd, side-branch lineage to an integral part of early tetrapod evolution.
Chang played an instrumental role following the revolution in reviving paleontological research in China, nurtured Chinese graduate students in paleontology, and assumed a pivotal role in fostering international collaborations.
Meemann Chang (ZHANG Miman) at her office in Beijing