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April 17, 2006
Contact: Mike Krings, University Relations, (785) 864-8860.

KU paleontologist, curator earns prestigious Guggenheim fellowship

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor who studies the geological history of termites and other insects and is a faculty curator at the Biodiversity Research Center has won a Guggenheim fellowship for 2006.

Michael S. Engel, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, is one of 187 recipients of the awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in New York City. He was chosen from a pool of nearly 3,000 applicants.

Engel plans to use the fellowship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York to study the geological history of termites, an ecologically dominant and ubiquitous group of insects. Specifically, he will document the entire fossil record for termites, which dates back 145 million to 150 million years. He will also examine the impact of fossil species and the relationship between major lineages of termites, their origins and rise to importance in modern ecosystems. Termites are vital to modern ecosystems because of their role in recycling carbon.

He will also finish a book on the classification of all modern and fossil termite species with Kumar Krishna, a retired professor at City College of New York. Engel published his first book, Evolution of the Insects, with David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History last year.

In addition to his teaching duties, Engel is curator in charge of the Division of Entomology in the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at KU. He earned a doctorate in systematic entomology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University.

Guggenheim fellows are appointed on the basis of distinguished achievement and promise for future accomplishment. The 2006 Guggenheim fellows range from a 29-year-old Yale University professor researching public perception of influenza vaccine policies, to 81-year-old Kansas City-area painter Wilbur Niewald.

Notable Guggenheim fellows include Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Linus Pauling, Philip Roth, Paul Samuelson, Wendy Wasserstein, Derek Walcott, James Watson and Eudora Welty.

Including Engel, KU has had 31 professors who have won 35 Guggenheim fellowships; four have been selected twice. Lisa Bitel, former director of women’s studies and professor of history, was KU’s most recent Guggenheim fellow in 2002.

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