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Professor Peter Ward

Biography/ Background

Peter Ward conducts his research within The Environment Institute's Sprigg Geobiolgy Centre.

Peter Ward has been active in Paleontology, Biology, and more recently, Astrobiology for more than 40 years. Since his Ph.D. in 1976, Ward has published more than 140 scientific papers dealing with paleontological, zoological, and astronomical topics. 

He is an acknowledged world expert on mass extinctions and the role of extraterrestrial impacts on Earth. Ward was the Principal Investigator of the University of Washington node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 2001-2006, and in that capacity led a team of over 40 scientists and students. His career was profiled by the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, William Dietrich in The Seattle Times article "Prophet, Populist, Poet of Science".

Peter has written a memoir of his research on the Nautilus for Nautilus Magazines "Ingenious" feature entitled "Nautilus and me. My wonderful, dangerous life with the amazing Nautilus".

Awards & Achievements

In 2003 Ward was awarded the Jim Shea medal for popular science writing, by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, its highest annual award. Previous recipients include Stephen Jay Gould, John McPhee, Robert Ballard, and Jack Horner. 

Other Awards:

  • Fellow (elected 1984) California Academy of Sciences
  • Gallagher Lecturer, University of Calgary (1996) 
  • Affiliate Professor, California Institute of Technology, 1995-1997
  • Golden Trilobite Award, Paleontological Society, Best Science Book of 1993 (On Methuselah’s Trail)
  • Nominee, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1992 (On Methuselah’s Trail)
  • Finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1994 (The End of Evolution)
  • Directors Lecturer, Los Alamos National Laboratory, 2001
  • Distinguished Lecturer, University of Hawaii, 2001
  • Distinguished Lecturer, Milan, Turin, and Bologne Cultural Ministries, 2001
  • Distinguished Lecturer, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, 2001,2004, 2008.
  • Keynote lecturer, Rimini Conference (Italy), 2002
  • Jim Shea Award, NAGT, 2003
  • Washington State Governors Book Award, 2005, for Gorgon
  • Stafford Little Lectureship in Public Affairs at Princeton University, 2007
  • TED main speaker, 2008.
  • Origins Speaker, 2009
  • Crossroads Conference Main Speaker, 2009.
  • 33rd Annual Faculty Lecturer, The University of Washington
  • Rome Science Festival, 2011
  • Washington State Academy of Sciences, elected 2011
  • First South American Conference on Astrobiology, Keynote Speaker, Quito, 2011


Ward has published over 140 scientific papers and sixteen books to date:

1. Beneath Puget Sound (1974, PB Press, Seattle)

2. The Natural History of Nautilus (1987, Unwin Hyman, London)

3. In Search of Nautilus (1988; Simon and Schuster)

4. On Methuselah's Trail: living fossils and the great extinctions (1991, W.H. Freeman). Winner of the Golden Trilobite Award by the Paleontological Society for best science book of 1991, also nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Award as well as being a Book of the Month Club selection.

4. The End of Evolution: on mass extinctions and the preservation of biodiversity (1994, Bantam Books). One of three finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Award (science category)

5. The Call of Distant Mammoths: What killed the Ice Age mammals (1997, Copernicus: Springer Verlag)

6. Time Machines: scientific explorations in deep time (1998, Copernicus: Springer Verlag)

7. Rare Earth: why complex life is uncommon in the Universe (with Don Brownlee) (2000, Copernicus :Springer Verlag). Amazon Best Seller, and was featured on the front page of the New York Times soon after its publication (it hit number 7 of all books). Named by Discover Magazine as one of the ten most important science books of 2001. Featured by an entire episode of ABC Nightline.

8. Rivers in Time (2000, Columbia University Press)

9. Future Evolution (with Alexis Rockman ) (2001, W.H. Freeman)

10. The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World (with Donald Brownlee) (2004, Holt Paperbacks)

11. Gorgon: paleontology, obsession, and the greatest catastrophe in Earth History (2004), Viking Penguin. Gorgon was awarded a Washington State Governor’s Book Award in 2005, and was nominated for a Keck Science Writing award.

12. Life as We Do Not Know It: the NASA search for and synthesis of alien life (2005, Viking). Named one of Library Journals “Best Books of 2005: ( ). It was also nominated for a Keck Science Writing Award.

13. “Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth’s Ancient Atmosphere” for The Joseph Henry Press, of the National Academy of Sciences, was a main selection of the Discover Book Club.

14. Under a Green Sky: the global warming mass extinctions (2007), was in a Scientific American article (October, 2006) and was a subject of a recent TED conference and Wired Science Q&A.

15. The Medea Hypothesis (2009, Princeton University Press,) was listed by the New York Times as one of the “100 most important ideas of 2009”.

16. Our Flooded Earth, Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps (2010, Basic Publishing)

Professional Associations

  • Councilor, Paleontological Society 1986-1988
  • Co-Editor in Chief, Cretaceous Research (Academic Press) 1984-1988
  • Associate Editor, Paleobiology, 1985-1989
  • Member, International Subcommission on Cretaceous Stratigraphy 1985-1992
  • Convener, Working Group 6, Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary, Global Sedimentology Program, 1990-1992
  • Associate Editor, Geology, 1991-1993
  • Co-editor, Geological Society of America Special Paper 247, Global Catastrophes in Earth History, 631p., 1990.
  • Associate Editor, Geology, 1995-1996
  • Associate Editor, Lethaia
  • Councilor, Paleontological Society, 1994-1996
  • Principal Investigator and Lead, NASA Astrobiology Institute, University of Washington 2001-2007
  • Member, Executive Committee, NASA Astrobiology Institute, 2001-2007
  • Board of Directors, Seattle Aquarium, 2003-2006
  • Seattle Aquarium Research Planning Board, 2003-2006
  • Seattle Aquarium Education Planning Board, 2003-2006
  • Lunar Science Planning Committee, NASA, 2004-
  • Member, Solar System Exploration Subcommittee of the Space Sciences Advisory Committee for the
  • Office of Space Sciences, 2004-2007

Community Engagement

Ward has appeared in numerous television documentaries, including the three part Dinosaur series for WHYY, The Crater (Horizon), The End of Evolution (based on his book, for Discover Channel Canada), The Shape of Life, The State of the World (David Attenborough and the BBC), the WGBH Evolution Series through Nova, The Shape of Life, (National Geographic) as well as numerous Discover and Learning Channel documentaries. He appeared in the recent Nova series, Origins. He appeared in two 2004 National Geographic Explorer specials: Alien encounters, and Urban Sharks and the NHK series Planet Earth among many others.

His series, the eight hour Animal Armageddon, funded by Animal Planet Network, was televised in 2009. Ward was writer and main on screen presence. Ward also appeared as a major on screen talent in the David Suzuki, four hour Canadian Broadcasting Company about past oceans which aired in early 2010, as well as being the main onscreen scientist in the National Geographic special, Future Gondwanaland which appeared in 2010.

Ward has been seen on a variety of television news programs. Following the publication of Rare Earth, Ward appeared on ABC News with Judy Muller, the O’Reilly Factor, CNN, MSNBC, and many local television programs. He is a regular on the Art Bell Coast to Coast radio program, as well as on the more mainstream Science Friday with Ira Flatow.

TED talk-A theory of Earth's Mass Extinctions:


Video interview for Nautilus Magazine & article:

Entry last updated: Wednesday, 28 May 2014

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