Webb’s Alf Museum has honored Dr. Julie Meachen, a vertebrate paleontologist who meshes K-12 outreach with groundbreaking research into Natural Trap Cave in northern Wyoming, with the Raymond M. Alf Award for Excellence in Paleontological Research and Education.
“Dr. Meachen’s work has transformed our view of the ice age in North America,” Alf Museum Director Dr. Andrew Farke said when announcing the award on Oct. 22 at the museum’s 29th annual Peccary Dinner. Farke praised Meachen for her work on fossilized mammals trapped in the 80-foot-deep sinkhole as well as for her work with high school students from Des Moines, Iowa. “I’m so honored and excited,” Meachen said. Meachen said her work focuses on how ice age mammals changed in response to shifts in climate and other natural factors. Her team also looks at impacts on microfauna, pollen and sediment. A publication on the effort is expected in an upcoming edition of Quaternary International. Natural Trap Cave has been snagging animals for close to 50,000 years. Meachen’s work focuses largely on animals trapped about 10,000 years ago But, beyond even the advances in knowledge directly generated by her work, Meachen emphasized the significance of the outreach program with high school students. “The importance this science education is particularly acute today with the global pandemic and the threat of climate change all around the globe,” Meachen said “These students get training that they wouldn’t normally get in a high school classroom, which makes them more scientifically literate.” Her students have gone on to pursue science, technology and engineering and math (STEM) subjects in college as well as STEM careers. Meachen is an assistant professor at Des Moines University.