2021 Young Scientist Award (Donath Medal)

Presented to Lidya Tarhan

Lidya Tarhan

Lidya Tarhan
Yale University


Citation by Murray Gingras, University of Alberta

Lidya Tarhan exhibits polymathic abilities in the fields of geobiology, paleontology and geology. She has shown a great ability to integrate geochemical, paleontological and stratigraphic datasets thereby contributing greatly to the understanding of evolution, animal radiations and Earths ancient oceans, particularly in the Paleozoic. Lidya earned her BA (2008) from Amherst University and her MSc (2010) and PhD (2013) working in Mary Droser’s storied research group at the University of California, Riverside. She is now an Assistant Professor at Yale University.

Lidya has conducted research all around the world and she earned her field boots in horribly hot places, such as Death Valley and the Ediacara Hills, and the very opposite of this, on Svalbard. Her research integrates data collection in the field and meticulous documentation of sedimentological and paleontological data, and her ability to add layers of geochemical interrogation to her research sets Lidya apart. Despite completing her PhD only 8 years ago, Lidya already has authored or co-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed research papers. Some of these efforts are based on enormous amounts of field data. An example that persistently boggles my mind is her set of papers regarding the early Paleozoic development of bioturbation: these papers are based on 700 meters of section, and observations, assessments and measurements of more than 42,200 discrete beds. Lidya’s research manages to ask the right questions with the goal always being to offer big picture hypotheses pertaining to early life and ancient Earth.

Lidya is particularly collegial and collaborative. She is part of an up and coming group of geobiology-focussed scientists that are taking the field by storm. As a ‘real’ paleontologist (and dare I say, ichnologist), Lidya fills a niche in geobiology research that no one else can and as a result, she is a critical player in the field. I, for one, am grateful to have the opportunity to watch her ascend the field, and I have absolutely no doubt that Lidya will be one of the leaders in Geoscience for many, many years to come and that her work will greatly influence the answers that we solicit from the stratigraphic record.


Response by Lidya Tarhan

I am deeply honored to receive this year’s Donath Medal. Sincerest thanks to the Geological Society of America, my nominator Murray Gingras and my letter writers Mary Droser, Dave Johnston and Kurt Konhauser.

I have been fortunate to have had a number of wonderful mentors and colleagues who have shaped my career as a geoscientist thus far. Jack Cheney, who was my first advisor at Amherst and, along with Tekla Harms, introduced me to the geology of the Pioneer Valley and persuaded me to pursue a geology major. James Hagadorn, who gave me my first hand lens and provided me, as a first-year undergraduate, with an incredible opportunity to research Cambrian shoreline deposits—an experience which inspired my love of fieldwork, sedimentology, bioturbation and taphonomy.

I would not be the scientist I am today without the intellectual upbringing I received and the vibrant and collaborative early Earth and early life research communities into which I was welcomed as a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside. Tim Lyons and Gordon Love opened the doors to the world of biogeochemical cycling. Nigel Hughes handed me a toolbox of paleobiological methods. Pete Sadler reshaped my view of the stratigraphic record and taught me to bring short- and long-term processes into mutual focus. And Mary Droser taught me to ask the fundamental questions, encouraged me to cultivate the multidisciplinary perspective to tackle them and provided an exceptional model for mentorship.

I thank my Yale colleagues, especially Derek Briggs and Celli Hull, my students and postdocs, and the dynamic community of paleontologists and geochemists of the Earth and Planetary Sciences department and the Peabody Museum; my colleagues Dave Bottjer, Paul Myrow, Sara Pruss, Chris Reinhard, Erin Saupe and Emmy Smith—as well as Murray, Kurt and Dave—from whom I am continually learning; and my partner and extraordinary colleague, Noah Planavsky.

Thank you again to the Donath Family and to GSA for this tremendous honor.