Paleobiologist and Curator of Fossil Plants

Paleobiologist Dr. Scott Wing holding a plant fossil with other large fossils behind him. Pictures on the wall behind.
Dr. Scott Wing showing collection of fossil plants. Smithsonian image NHB2010-04646.

Dr. Scott Wing is a Curator of Fossil Plants at the National Museum of Natural History. His interest in paleobiology was sparked during a Human Evolution class he took at Duke University as a high school senior. Soon after, he made his first trip west to the badlands of Wyoming on a paleontology field expedition with Dr. Elwyn Simmons. He got hooked on collecting fossils and being outdoors, and studying how environments have changed over time. He went on to earn both a B.S. and Ph.D. in Biology from Yale University. During graduate school, while a student of Dr. Bruce Tiffney, he noticed some plant-bearing layers mixed in with vertebrate fossil layers in Wyoming. He brought a few specimens back to Yale, unwittingly launching his career in paleobotany. Those leaf fossils also inspired his first connections with the Smithsonian, as Paleobotanist Dr. Leo Hickey mentored him in identifying fossil leaves.

Several years later, Scott began what was to become a decades-long career at the Smithsonian. Today, Scott Wing’s research focuses on fossil plants, with an emphasis on how climate has changed in the past and how ecosystems have responded to climate change. He has long worked to uncover the causes and effects of a sudden global warming event that occurred 56 million years ago. This event, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, has many similarities to current, human-caused changes in the atmosphere and climate. Wing has also researched the deep-time origins of tropical rainforests, and the paleoecology of flowering plants during the last part of the Age of Dinosaurs.