Mark McMenamin

Professor of Geology

Office: 303 Clapp Laboratory
Email: Mark McMenamin
Phone: 413-538-2280
Fax: 413-538-2239


  • Ph.D. University of California at Santa Barbara, Geology, 1984
  • B. S. Stanford University, Geology, 1979

Personal Statement

The spirit of discovery, the spirit of exploration has led to most of the advancements in our scientific knowledge. This impulse can lead one from exotic field sites to dusty library basements to the most obscure pages on the Web. The aim of all these activities is the same, however, the seeking out and finding of answers and solutions to key questions and important problems. The advantage of a liberal arts education is that it gives one a sense of what is worth looking for, and an understanding of where and how to look.


I teach a wide array of courses, from a large introductory course on the "History of Life" (Geology 102), to an intermediate course on "Ocean Environments: (Geology 226), to upper level Geology lab courses such as "Stratigraphy and Sedimentary Geology" and "Paleontology," to January term courses with titles such as "Hypersea in the Hot Zone" and "Snowball Earth." I have participated in interdisciplinary course efforts on the Mount Holyoke campus, and am in the process of designing new courses which will address areas of expanding knowledge about Earth and its biosphere.

There is an art to the teaching of science courses, and I strive to bring my students the organizational tools needed to exploit the swirling cascade of data, inference and conjecture that constitutes our knowledge of the world. Once I have succeeded in bringing students to speed, education becomes very exciting; my students become self-propelled with enthusiasm for their subjects of study. I have a proprietary interest in this process, for it is not long before these same students begin to teach me new things. When students graduate, I feel pride mingled with regret that I am about to lose the students I have so enjoyed working with. I currently have a handful of especially promising student projects just waiting for the right people; if you are a motivated student interested in the most interesting problems in the earth sciences, talk to me now!


I try to get students involved in research as soon as possible; there is no better learning experience than to apply one's own talents to a research problem that has never been addressed by anyone else in quite the same way. To this end, students and I have worked together on projects of mutual interest, with spectacular results. We have presented papers at national geological meetings together, published scientific articles together in major journals, and discovered important fossil localities together, including the discovery of the locality which has yielded the oldest known animal fossils in Sonora, Mexico. One of my students co-authored publication recently received a favorable citation in Science magazine, strong evidence that the work of Mount Holyoke undergraduates is being taken seriously in the wider world of science.

These activities are a benefit to students seeking admission to graduate school and seeking to fund graduate work. They also impart skills which will be of great use in a variety of work environments. I also try to practice what I preach, and in addition to the discovery of the oldest animal fossils, my work has led to the recognition and naming of the Proterozoic supercontinent Rodinia, the definition of Hypersea, and the bringing to light of a complete translation of Vladimir Vernadsky's The Biosphere (edited by Mark McMenamin, 1998, Springer-Verlag/Copernicus), a book absolutely vital for our understanding of the relationship between life and geological process, and Cornielle Jean Koene's key work The Chemical Constitution of the Atmosphere From Earth's Origin to the Present. My latest book The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the Earliest Complex Life has triggered an informative and at times passionate debate about the meaning of evolution.


Ever since winning a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation in 1988, I have made it a priority in my work to have my research results appear in as wide a variety of publication outlets as possible. Publication venues for my paleontological and geochemical work have included Scientific American, Science and Nature, as well as specialty journals such as Journal of Palentology and Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Books have played a key role in disseminating my research results, and have the added advantage of condensing vast amounts of disparate information into one convenient location for the benefit of students. My books, several of which have been coauthored with my wife Dianna McMenamin, include The Emergence of Animals: The Cambrian Breakthrough (Columbia, 1990), Hypersea: Life on Land (Columbia, 1994), Carthaginian Cartography: A Stylized Exergue Map (Meanma, 1996) and The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the Earliest Complex Life (Columbia, 1998), and Geology 101 (Smithsonian Science Series, 2007).

My favorite aspect of the advancements made in recent decades in computer technology is the way in which these developments have expanded the possibilities for publication. Hypersea and Emergence of Animals are now part of a select group of books placed on the online book service of Columbia University. Web pages such as the one you are now reading are a powerful means of getting the word out [see Web links below to my other Web pages]. My work was recently featured in the National Geographic Channel Naked Science Series episode "Colliding Continents," and I was recently interviewed by the History Channel.


Mount Holyoke News & The College Street Journal

In the Press

  • Discover Magazine
  • First Creatures Not Animals?
    Daily InScight Cast out of Eden - New Scientist (Currently off-line.)
  • Out of the Depths: The Science and Theology of Water
    Harvard Seminar on Environmental Values

Course Related Links

For more information about the beautiful trilobite images on this page, see Trilobite.