Philippe Gerrienne is a FNRS Research Associate in the Palaeobotany, Palaeopalynolgy and Micropaleontology Unit at the University of Liège’s Geology Department (Belgium). He also teaches in the field of Palaeobotany. His main research area is the study of the very first terrestrial plants, their systematics, their biology and their geographical distribution. ‘Every time I dig up fossil plants, it’s the same fascination, the same sense of wonder, before this slightly open window onto a biodiversity we still understand so poorly. I also feel a little sad and have a strange sense of guilt. These fossils, which have come down to us sometimes almost intact after millions of years of an improbable geological journey, are destined to a very short expiry date. Attacked by the light and by oxygen, they will rapidly fade and as good as disappear. Nonetheless the steps taken by palaeobotanists are driven by a hope, the hope of one day being able to tell one of the most fabulous stories, the story of the thousands of plant species which populate the Earth today.’
Philippe Gerrienne’s scientific journey began in 1982 with the study of fossil plants on a Belgian site dating back to the Early Devonian period (thus more or less 400 million years ago). He subsequently produced a doctoral thesis concerning all of the Belgian sites of the same period. During this research he discovered over a dozen species and genuses, certain of which belong to families which were not known of up until that point. In 1993 he was nominated a FNRS Research Associate and extended his field of interest to, on the one hand, fossil plants of a Devonian age found in, for example, Brazil or Morocco, and on the other hand to more recent plant fossils (Middle and Late Devonian, Carboniferous, Tertiary or even subactual).
He has organised, co-organised or taken part in Devonian fossil gathering missions in the four corners of the planet (Australia, Brazil, China, and Morocco). For several years he has also taught plant biology to the future biologists and geologists at the University of Liège. He regularly participates in activities seeking to make science accessible, which he has a particular affection for.