Jenny Clack

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Jennifer Alice Clack, FRS (née Agnew; born 3 November 1947) is an English paleontologist, an expert in the field of evolutionary biology. She studies the "fish to tetrapod" transition— the origin, evolutionary development and radiation of early tetrapods and their relatives among the lobe-finned fishes. She is best known for her book Gaining Ground: the Origin and Early Evolution of Tetrapods, published in 2002 (second edition, 2012) and written with the layman in mind.

Clack is curator at the Museum of Zoology and Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at Cambridge University, where she has devoted her career to studying the early development of tetrapods, the "four-legged" animals said to have evolved from Devonian lobe-finned fishes and colonised the freshwater swamps of the Carboniferous period.

Early life and education[edit]

Clack was born on 3 November 1947 to Ernest and Alice Agnew.[1] She was brought up in Manchester, England.[2] She was educated at Bolton School (Girls' Division), an independent school in Bolton, Manchester. She received a BSc in Zoology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1970, and a PhD from the University in 1984. She also holds a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester and an MA from the University of Cambridge. On 9 December 2000, she was awarded a Doctor of Science (ScD) degree by the University of Cambridge.[3]

Academic career[edit]

In 1981, Clack joined the University Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge, as an Assistant Curator.[1][2] She was promoted to Senior Assistant Curator in 1995. Since 2005, she has been Curator in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the museum.[1] In 2006 she was awarded a personal chair by the University of Cambridge, and took the title Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology. She retired in 2015 and is now Emeritus Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the museum.

In 1997, Clack was elected a Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge;[4] since 1 October 2015, she has been an Emeritus Fellow.[5][6] From 2000 to 2005, she was Reader in Vertebrate Palaeontology the University of Cambridge.[1] On 1 October 2006, Clack was awarded a personal chair by Cambridge, taking the title Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology.[1][7]

In 1987, during an expedition to East Greenland, Clack and her team discovered the remains of the Devonian tetrapods Acanthostega and Ichthyostega.[8] Acanthostega is a transitional, water-bound primitive tetrapod.

In April 2012 she was featured in an episode[9] of the BBC television series Beautiful Minds, a set of documentaries about scientists who have made important discoveries.

She is currently leading a major consortium project investigating some exciting new fossils from Northumberland and the Borders Region of Scotland which date from the Tournaisian stage of the earliest Carboniferous period. Collaborating with experts from the Universities of Southampton and Leicester, the British Geological Survey and the National Museums of Scotland, the team is studying the plants, fish, tetrapods and invertebrates which survived the end Devonian extinction and existed within the (until now) fossil-poor period known as Romer's Gap, as well as the environment and depositional conditions in which they lived. More information can be found on the Project website .


In 2008, Clack was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.[10] In 2013, she was awarded the T Neville George Medal by the Geological Society of Glasgow.

In 2009, Clack was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[11] She has also been elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2014 she was made an Honorary Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

On 15 June 2013, Clack was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) degree by the University of Chicago. The university described her as "an internationally preeminent paleontologist whose research has profoundly changed the understanding of the origin of terrestrial vertebrate life."[12] On 17 July 2014, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Leicester.[13]

In 2018, she won the Palaeontological Association's most prestigious award, the Lapworth Medal.[14]

Selected works[edit]


Clack has published the following books:[15]

  • Gaining Ground: The Origin and Early Evolution of Tetrapods (Life of the Past), Indiana University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0253340542.
  • Fossils of the Castillo Formation, Venezuela: Contributions in Neotropical Palaeontology (Special Papers in Palaeontology), with Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra, Wiley-Blackwell, 2004, ISBN 978-0901702821.
  • Localities, Distribution and Stratigraphical Context of the Late Devonian Tetrapods of East Greenland (Meddelelser om Grønland), with Henning Blom and Per Erik Ahlberg, Danish Polar Center, 2005, ISBN 978-8790369767.


Clack wrote an article for Scientific American describing her work entitled Getting a Leg Up on Land.[16]

Journal publications[edit]

  • An article in Nature in 2008, "Ventastega curonica and the origin of tetrapod morphology" (co-author)[17]
  • A letter to Nature in 2001 about a new tetrapod with at least five digits, Pederpes, from within Romer's gap: An early tetrapod from ‘Romer's Gap’.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e "CLACK, Prof. Jennifer Alice". Who's Who 2015. Oxford University Press. November 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b Clack, Rob (6 October 2009). "Jenny Clack – Biography". The Clacks. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  3. ^ "Congregation of the Regent House on 9 December 2000". Cambridge University Reporter (5831). 13 December 2000. p. 27. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  4. ^ "Darwin College". Cambridge University Reporter (5718). 5 November 1997. p. 24. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  5. ^ "College Notices – Darwin College". Cambridge University Reporter (6396). 23 September 2015. p. 12. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Master & fellows". Darwin College, Cambridge. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  7. ^ "Report of the General Board on Senior Academic Promotions". Cambridge University Reporter (6036). 17 May 2006. p. 17.
  8. ^ "Professor Jennifer Clack (Doctor of Science)". Press Office. University of Leicester. 17 July 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Professor Jenny Clack" at BBC Programmes
  10. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  11. ^ "Jennifer Clack". Fellows Directory. The Royal Society. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  12. ^ Koppes, Steve; Allen, Susie (15 May 2013). "University to bestow five honorary degrees at 515th Convocation". U Chicago News. The University of Chicago. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  13. ^ "Figures from public life to be honoured by University of Leicester". University of Leicester. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Jennifer A. Clack". Amazon UK. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  16. ^ "Getting a Leg Up on Land". Scientific American. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  17. ^ Ahlberg, Per E.; Jennifer A. Clack; Ervins Luksevics; Henning Blom; Ivars Zupins (26 June 2008). "Ventastega curonica and the origin of tetrapod morphology". Nature. 453 (7199): 1199–1204. doi:10.1038/nature06991. PMID 18580942.
  18. ^ Clack, J.A. (4 July 2002). "An early tetrapod from 'Romer's Gap'". Nature. 418 (6893): 72–76. doi:10.1038/nature00824. PMID 12097908.

External links[edit]