Welcome to the web site of
John W. Merck, Jr.

Hello, and thank you for visiting my web site. Information about my research, career, biography, and interests is available through the table of contents on the left. Here, however, is a brief synopsis:

I am a morphology-based vertebrate systematist and paleontologist. I got my Ph.D. from the Department of Geological Sciences of the The University of Texas at Austin, in December of 1997. My supervisor was Dr. Timothy Rowe. During this research I was heavily involved with both scientific and educational applications of digital multimedia.

My dissertation research was a phylogenetic analysis of the major marine reptiles of the Mesozoic: the sauropterygians and ichthyosaurs. The result prepares the ground for more detailed investigations of these groups' phylogenies, the subject of my current and future work. These studies led me to seek new morphological data through high-resolution CT scanning of fossil specimens, and to develop techniques for their interpretation and digital dissemination.

One of my major professional aims is to contribute to the published body of complete CT scanned images of vertebrate fossil specimens, such as the CD-ROM "Alligator: Digital Atlas of the Skull" which features scans obtained at the University of Texas High Resolution X-ray CT (Computed Tomography) Scanning facility . I look forward to pursuing similar work on significant fossil vertebrate specimens.

As a graduate student, I acquired extensive experience in undergraduate education and instructional multimedia development, and have enjoyed the unusual opportunity to design instructional multimedia applications specifically for use in undergraduate classes (The Age of Dinosaurs). My experience using this software in subsequent teaching, and observing student responses to it gives me an unusual practical perspective on its uses and limits.

If anything, I am more impressed by the educational benefits of undergraduate student participation in research or multimedia development projects than by the media, themselves, because of the direct mentoring relationships such participation tends to foster between students and faculty. In Texas, I watched many undergraduates go on to reap great educational and professional benefits from their opportunities during such projects.

I am now the associate director of the Earth, Life, and Time program of College Park Scholars at the University of Maryland , College Park. This program seeks to develop an appreciation of historical natural sciences, however my aim is not that it should be a mini-natural sciences major. Instead, I view it as a setting in which new college students can develop all of the advantages offered by the kind of close collaborations with faculty mentors that I witnessed as a graduate student: Close ties to experts in their fields, superior knowledge of the university as an institution, exceptional familiarity with professional and academic opportunities on campus, and confidence to use these advantages to their benefit.