Kowalewski collects paleontological and geological data over a wide range of time scales to study such diverse topics as ecological interactions of ancient predators and their fossil prey and long-term evolutionary patterns. His research program is based on quantitative data acquired in the field and from museum collections and published literature.
"Michal weaves together the field-based, specimen-based, theory-based and analytical approaches to our discipline," said Karl Flessa, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona, who was Kowalewski's doctoral advisor. "In doing so, he draws from each approach's strengths to compensate for the other's weaknesses."
Kowalewski was also praised for his work with students, particularly graduate students, in assisting them with their professional development.
"Since his arrival at Virginia Tech in 1998, Michal has further energized a long-excellent program in paleobiology," said interim department head Robert Tracy. "He has brought in an outstanding group of graduate students and has led in our development of a strategic planning initiative in Earth Systems studies that is aimed to place Virginia Tech geosciences firmly at the forefront of U.S. doctoral programs in that area."
In recently published work, Kowalewski and his research team report on what brachiopod shells from 550 to 250 million years ago can tell us about predators' struggle to survive. Since brachiopods (lampshells) don't provide much nourishment, when they fell victim to predators, it was likely due to bad menu choices, lots of competition, or other edibles figuring out how to avoid being eaten.
"We tend to view long-term predator-prey interactions in terms of evolutionary arms races," Kowalewski said. "However, in this case, they may reflect more than 500 million years of menu selection errors." Kowalewski and his students have used more recent shells to student the past and present health of rivers and estuaries.
"This award is a truly overwhelming honor," Kowalewski said. "However, it really belongs to my many friends and colleagues who selflessly shared with me their intellect, knowledge, time, and data."
A native of Poland, Kowalewski earned his masters degree in geology from the University of Warsaw and his Ph.D. in geosciences from the University of Arizona. He joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1998 and has received numerous honors since that time, including the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Award and the Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship.
Learn more about Kowalewski's work at www.geol.vt.edu/paleo/mk.html.