Harris Awardee Daniel Blake (center) receives congratulations from PRI Director Warren Allmon (right) and PRI Board of Trustees President Linda Ivany (left) at the GSA 2012 Convention in Charlotte, NC

Harris Awardee Daniel Blake (center) receives congratulations from PRI Director Warren Allmon (right) and PRI Board of Trustees President Linda Ivany (left) at the GSA 2012 Convention in Charlotte, NC

It is with pleasure that the Paleontological Research Institution presents its 2012 Gilbert Harris Award to Daniel B. Blake.

The Harris Award is presented annually by PRI in recognition of excellence in contributions to systematic paleontology, to a scientist who, through outstanding research and commitment to the centrality of systematics in paleontology, has made a significant contribution to the science.

Dan Blake grew up on the south side of Chicago and attended the University of Illinois at Chicago when the campus was located on Navy Pier. He transferred to the U of I at Urbana-Champaign, where completed his BS degree, and then did his masters at Michigan State, where he studied echinoids. Dan moved on to what would come to dominate his life’s work, modern and fossil asteroids, for his dissertation under J. Wyatt Durham at UC Berkeley, completing his PhD in 1967. Fortunately for the profession, Dan was preoccupied with echinoderm systematics during those years and missed out on the interesting social movements happening just around the corner at Haight-Ashbury.

Following his return to UIUC as an assistant professor, Dan spent an early sabbatical at the Smithsonian where he worked with Richard Boardman, further broadening his systematic expertise. There, he was part of a large group of experts revising the Bryozoan Treatise. Dan’s work on Rhabdomesina is still the benchmark for systematics of that diverse suborder. Dan continued to work on bryozoans for some time and mentored several successful PhD students who studied the group. However, he always returned to his true love of fossil stelleroids.

Dan is and will remain best known for his systematic and phylogenetic work with the Asterozoa. His approach, combining a critical understanding of their functional morphology with deep geologic knowledge of their history, has allowed him to develop a cladistics approach to their phylogeny that should serve as a model for all. Dan must be the only person in the world to have examined representative specimens of literally every known genus of modern and fossil sea star.

Other echinoderm paleontologists who have worked on asteroids recognize Dan as the ultimate authority on this little studied but important fossil group. This is particularly true for Paleozoic fossil representatives. Much of Dan’s current state-of-the-art knowledge and ideas of asteroid evolution and systematics (which derives also from mentoring studies of molecular phylogenetics) will appear in the revised Asteroza volume of the Treatise, currently under revision, with Dan as lead author.

In addition to his broad systematics expertise, Dan is a phenomenal field geologist, and he mentored several PhD students in stratigraphy who went on to successful careers in that discipline. Colleagues who have been in the field with him are ever impressed not only with his perception, insight, and uncanny ability to spot fossil starfish, but also with his ability to gain elevation faster than was comfortable for everyone else! His understanding of environment, ecology, geography, and temporal distribution informs and enriches his phylogenetic work in important and occasionally unexpected ways.

Dan has fostered an exceptional relationship with amateur collectors over the years. One of those (Hans Hess) won the Paleontological Society’s Strimple Award by Dan’s nomination. Dan not only developed the trust of the amateur community through mutual respect, but for many he taught them the science and included them in the research to the point of earned co-authorship of published papers.

Dan Blake has served as mentor and a role model to many young scientists. He is the embodiment of the responsible conduct of research. Dan treats everyone with genuine respect and honor. Those who have been mentored by him know to respectfully criticize others’ ideas but never their personal or scientific integrity.

It is with great pleasure, honor, and esteem that the Paleontological Research Institution presents its 2012 Gilbert Harris Award to Daniel B. Blake.