Profile of a Curator
Name: Bernhard Zipfel
Position: University Curator of Fossil and Rock Collections
Institution: The Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
How many years have you been working in this capacity? 7 years
When did you join SPNHC? I am a new SPNHC member, having joined last year, 2013.
What drew you to the natural history field?
I came from the health sciences (podiatric medicine) with a research interest in the evolution of the foot. This drew me into the field of palaeoanthropology and broader palaeontology.
Describe the nature of the collections you work with.
I curate all fossil and associated collections (including casts , teaching material and teaching slides) at the University of the Witwatersrand. Fossil holdings cover Therapsids and dinosaurs from the Karoo, fossil plants , plio-pleistocene fauna (including one of the world’s largest hominid collections) and comparative extant mammal collections.
What are your responsibilities for them?
Supervise, manage and administer; the large technical staff to accomplish curatorial requirements of the university collections and their progress; budgetary control of departmental funds allocated to curation and maintenance of collection; accession of all new collections material into the suitable collections catalogue and ensure material is appropriately stored to be available for future research; regular examination of all collections ensuring that each item is appropriately stored, noting deterioration and attempts to address problem; catalogue entries into suitable computer database where appropriate; review of all outstanding material loans and paperwork relating to material loans, export and temporary export permits; scholarly research in natural sciences and publication of results in peer reviewed journals; supervision of post-graduate (Masters and Doctoral) students.
Describe some of your activities.
Assisting visiting students and scientists with access to the various fossil collections; chairing a number of committees, including the Fossil Access Advisory for application for access; fieldwork and conducting scholarly research on collections; supervision of post-graduate students; educational outreach where appropriate; collections visits for interested groups and potential funders, lectures and seminars.
What do you find most interesting about your work?
Assisting scientists in obtaining access to fossils and facilitating their work in as efficient a manner as possible, and carrying out scholarly research and publishing the findings.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I recently became an NRF Rated Scientist (C2 category). This is a National Research Foundation rating in which researchers with an international standing are recognized and receive funding accordingly.
The descriptions of the foot and ankle and biomechanics of walking of the new hominid Australopithecus sediba in the journal Science: Zipfel, B., DeSilva, J., Kidd, R.S., Carlson, C., Churchill, S., Berger, L.R. 2011. The foot and ankle of Australopithecus sediba. Science 333: 1417-1420;
DeSilva, J.M., Holt, K.G., Churchill, S., Carlson, K., Walker, C. Zipfel, B., Berger, L. 2013.The lower limb and the mechanics of walking in Australopithecus sediba. Science 340: 1232999-1 – 1232999-5.
What have you learned from SPNHC to be particularly helpful? How has SPNHC helped you?
I have made contact with some remarkable ‘kindred spirits’ which has broadened my network of collections managers, curators and researchers. SPNHCattempts to set the highest standards in collections management and coming from a developing country, this is very helpful and there is much to be learned.