Assistant Professor Lauren Sallan

Assistant Professsor Lauren Sallan is a fish paleobiologist who uses big data — the fossil record — to study how some species win and others lose. Her multiple TED Talks on the evolution of fishes, mass extinction and paleontology have received over 3 million views.

Lauren Sallan earned a PhD in Integrative Biology from the University of Chicago in 2012. She then accepted a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship from the Michigan Society of Fellows, which included a faculty position in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Sallan was subsequently the Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Dr. Sallan received the Stensio Award for top early career paleoichthyologist in 2015, and the University of Chicago Biological Science Division Distinguished Service Award for Early Achievement in 2018. In 2019, Lauren received an NSF CAREER award and became a TED Senior Fellow. Her multiple TED Talks on the evolution of fishes, mass extinction and paleontology have received over 3 million views. Dr. Sallan’s research has been published in high-profile venues such as Science, Nature, PNAS, and Current Biology, and been featured by popular outlets such as The New York Times, the BBC, Forbes, the New Scientist, and the Discovery Channel.

Area of expertise: paleontology, evolution, marine ecology, fossils, history of life, fish, early evolution of vertebrates.

Selected media coverage: 

TED talks
Podcast episode Mass extinction - NewsTalk
After a Mass Extinction, Only the Small Survive - The NewYork Times
If Thanos Actually Wiped Out Half of All Life, How Would Earth Fare in the Aftermath? - Smithsonian Magazine

Professional experience

  • Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 2017-2022
  • Assistant Professor, Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, 2014-2022
  • Michigan Fellow, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan 2012-2014


  • NSF CAREER Award, 2019
  • TED Senior Fellowship, 2019
  • University of Chicago, Biological Sciences Division Alumni (MBSAA), Distinguished Service Award for Early Achievement, 2018
  • Martin Meyerson Assistant Professorship in Interdisciplinary Studies (Endowed Chair), University of Pennsylvania, 2017-2022
  • Stensio Award for Top Early Career Paleoichthyologist, 2015

Selected publications

  • Sallan, L. 2020. Evolution: Spinal Innovation Enabled by Genome Duplication. Current Biology 30: R1006-R1008.

  • Sallan, L., Friedman, M., Sansom, R. S., Bird, C., and I. J. Sansom 2018. The Nearshore Cradle of Early Vertebrate Diversification. Science 362: 460-464. Perspective by Catalina Pimiento (362: 402-403),
  • Sallan, L., Giles, S., Sansom, R., Clarke, J., Johanson, Z., Sansom, I., and P. Janvier 2017. The ‘Tully Monster’ is Not a Vertebrate: Convergence, Characters and Taphonomy in Paleozoic Problematic Animals. Palaeontology 60: 149-157. Palaeontology Most Downloaded Paper 2017-2018.
  • Sallan, L. 2016. Fish ‘Tails’ Result from Outgrowth and Reduction of Two Separate Ancestral Tails. Current Biology 26:R1224-R1225
  • Sallan, L. and A. K. Galimberti2015. Body-Size Reduction in Vertebrates Following the End-Devonian Mass Extinction. Science 350: 812-815. Perspective by Peter Wagner (350: 736-737)
  • Sallan, L. 2014. Major Issues in the Origins of Ray-finned Fish (Actinopterygian) Biodiversity. Biological Reviews 89: 950-971.
  • Sallan, L. 2012. Tetrapod-like Axial Regionalization in an Early Ray-finned Fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 3264-3271.
  • Friedman, M. and L. Sallan. 2012. Five Hundred Million Years of Extinction and Recovery: A Phanerozoic Survey of Large-Scale Diversity Patterns in Fishes.” Palaeontology 55: 707-742. Summary by Mike Benton (56: 1-7).
  • Sallan, L and M. Friedman. 2012. Heads or Tails: Staged Diversification in Vertebrate Evolutionary Radiations.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 2025-2032.
  • Sallan, L., Kammer, T., Ausich, W. and L. Cook. 2011. Persistent Predator-
  • Prey Dynamics Revealed by Mass Extinction.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108: 8335-8338.
  • Sallan, L. and Coates, M. 2010. End-Devonian Extinction and a Bottleneck in the Early Evolution of Modern Jawed Vertebrates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107: 10131-10135.