Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur) 1902-

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Biographical History

G. Arthur Cooper (1902-2000), paleobiologist emeritus at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), distinguished himself as an authority on the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. He first developed an interest in natural history by collecting insects and minerals during his childhood in New York. During his adolescence his interest in minerals grew, and he received his B.S. degree in chemistry with a minor in geology from Colgate University in 1924. Cooper continued research on stratigraphy of upper New York state and was awarded the M.S. degree from Colgate University in 1926 on the merits of this work. Cooper continued his graduate studies at Yale University under Carl O. Dunbar and Charles Schuchert. Under Schuchert's direction, he began his study of fossil brachiopods, an interest he maintained throughout his career. He received his Ph.D. in 1929, focusing on the stratigraphy of the Hamilton formation. While at Yale, he also served as assistant curator, 1928-1929, and research associate, 1929-1930, in the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Cooper came to the Smithsonian in 1930 as assistant curator in the Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology of the United States National Museum (USNM). In 1941, he advanced to associate curator and in 1944 to curator of the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology. He was appointed head curator of the Department of Geology in 1957, and oversaw its division into the separate departments of Paleobiology and Mineral Sciences in 1963. He continued as chairman of the Department of Paleobiology through 1967 when he was appointed senior paleobiologist. After his retirement from federal service in 1974, he continued his research at the Smithsonian as paleobiologist emeritus until 1987. During his years as an administrator, the paleobiology staff grew from two in 1944 to twenty in 1967 as Cooper sought to fill gaps of coverage in the department. Cooper was also the motivating force behind the split of the Department of Geology into two separate departments in 1963. By implementing these changes he stimulated growth and focused research on paleobiology. He also involved himself in space planning and supervision of the move into the new wings of the Natural History Building in 1963-1965. Cooper is well known for his research on the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. His major monographs include: Ozarkian and Canadian Brachiopoda (1938 with E. O. Ulrich), Chazyan and Related Brachiopods (1956), Morphology, Classification, and Life Habits of Productoids (Brachiopoda) (1960 with Helen M. Muir-Wood), and Permian Brachiopods of West Texas, vols. 1-6 (1969-1977 with Richard E. Grant). Throughout his career, he conducted extensive field work in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, significantly increasing both the range and depth of the national collections. Under his guidance, an acid-etching laboratory was established for work with silicified fossils, notably Permian brachiopods from the Glass Mountains of Texas. He also developed his own photographic laboratory, where he produced over fifty thousand images from the collections. Many honors have been presented to Cooper over the years, including the Mary Clark Thompson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, 1958; the Paleontological Society Medal, 1964; the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, 1979; the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America, 1983; and the James Hall Medal of the New York State Geological Survey, 1986.

Related entities

United States National Museum: He worked in several departments of the United States National Museum.

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