Alan Walker, distinguished professor of anthropology and biology at Penn State, has been named a Fellow of the British Royal Society. Founded in 1660, the Royal Society is an independent organization that serves as the United Kingdom's academy of science by advising the British government and promoting the natural and applied sciences both nationally and internationally.
Election to the fellowship of the Royal Society is recognized worldwide as a sign of the highest regard in science. New Fellows must be proposed by at least six existing Fellows and then assessed by selection committees in each major field of science. Walker, who was honored for his distinguished contributions to the world's knowledge of human origins, is one of forty-two new Fellows six new Foreign Members elected this year.
Walker is one of the world's foremost experts on the evolution of primates and humans. His research involves searching for primate and human fossils in rocks dated from about 30 million to 1 million years ago and conducting laboratory analyses of the fossils to extract as much environmental and behavioral information from them as possible. He pioneered the study of living primates as a basis for the analysis of fossils and was one of the first to use scanning electron microscope studies of enamel microwear on teeth to understand the diets of extinct mammals.
He has made many important discoveries during the past three decades at paleontological digs in Africa with his collaborators Richard and Meave Leakey, including a famous hominid specimen known as "The Black Skull." In 1995 he and Meave Leakey discovered the skeletal remains of a previously unknown species in the human lineage, which they named Australopithecus anamensis, that lived about 4 million years ago. One of the surprising revelations resulting from his subsequent analysis of these remains is that these ancestors of humans were walking upright that long ago.