Nicholls, Elizabeth (Betsy)

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Nicholls, Elizabeth (Betsy)

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1946-2004

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Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Nicholls was an award winning palaeontologist who received her graduate training at the University of Calgary. Betsy went on to work at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, becoming an internationally renowned marine-reptile specialist.

Born in Oakland, California in 1946 and finding an interest in palaeontology at an early age, Betsy completed her undergraduate degree in the subject at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1969 she moved to Canada with her husband, Jim Nicholls, who had accepted a position at the University of Calgary’s Department of Geology and Geophysics. She completed her MSc on Campanian turtles in 1972 and her PhD on marine reptiles from Morden, Manitoba in 1989, raising a family and taking on a series of other projects between degrees. One of these projects was the excavation, preparation and mounting of a Jurassic plesiosaur from the Crowsnest Pass area of southwestern Alberta: the fossil remains on display in the Biological Sciences building at the University of Calgary.

Upon completion of her graduate studies, Dr Nicholls began working at the Royal Tyrrell Museum as their marine-reptile specialist. Her work established western Canada as one of the world’s most important areas in the world for Triassic marine reptiles. She successfully excavated and prepared the world’s largest known marine reptile, a 23-metre long Triassic ichthyosaur. This project involved six years of planning, fund-raising and seeking permits, and four years of laboratory work to remove the fossil from the limestone in which it was embedded. Nicholls received a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2000 for this work.

Betsy Nicholls died in 2004 at the age of 58.

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