Director of the Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life -- and a member of the Department of Earth & Space Sciences, the Institute of Geophysics & Planetary Physics, and the Molecular Biology Institute -- at the University of California, Los Angeles, J. William ("Bill") Schopf received his undergraduate training in geology at Oberlin College, Ohio, and his Ph.D. degree, in biology, from Harvard University. Dr. Schopf's research focuses on the origin and early evolution of living systems, spanning the earliest 85% of geological time (the Precambrian Eon, extending from the formation of the planet, ~4,500 million years ago, to the rise of animals, ~550 million years ago). He has carried out geological fieldwork on all continents except Antarctica and was first to discover cellularly petrified Precambrian fossils in Australia, China, India, Russia, and the USA, including ~3,500-million-year-old threadlike cellular microbes from northwestern Western Australia that are among the oldest fossils known. His current work focuses on the use of confocal laser scanning microscopy and Raman and fluorescence spectroscopic imagery to analyze, in three dimensions and at submicron-resolution, the cellular morphology and molecular-structural chemistry of ancient fossil microorganisms entombed in rocks -- techniques he has pioneered that can be used in the search for evidence of past life in Mars rocks.
A member of the UCLA faculty since 1968, Schopf has received all of his university's campus-wide faculty awards: for teaching, research, and academic excellence. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Microbiology; is a Foreign Member of the Linnean Society of London and the A.N. Bach Institute of Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences; has been awarded medals by the National Science Board, the National Academy of Science, and the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life; is recipient of three national book prizes; and has received two Guggenheim Fellowships.