The Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (VPL) is known worldwide as a major repository for unique scientific collections from the American Southwest. VPL was founded in 1948 by the late Dr. John (Jack) A. Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Geology at The University of Texas at Austin. Today, VPL is the principal repository for vertebrate fossils collected from state and federal lands in Texas and contiguous areas, as well as for specimens collected elsewhere using state and federal funds.
The fossil vertebrate holdings of VPL rank among the seven largest in North America. Most of its specimens were collected by faculty, staff and students from The University of Texas at Austin. Current VPL holdings also include several important collections made over the last two centuries by other Texas universities and research organizations. These were transferred to VPL by legislative mandate and under agreements with those organizations to insure the continued maintenance and accessibility of research and teaching specimens. They have provided the foundation for many published studies on Texas geology and paleontology, and on the evolution of vertebrates.
General strengths of the VPL collection are in its holdings from Early Permian terrestrial sediments, Late Triassic terrestrial sediments, Late Cretaceous marine and terrestrial sediments, Tertiary terrestrial sediments, and rich Quaternary cave deposits. VPL holdings also include representative vertebrate fossils from other parts of the world that date back to the Ordovician, and casts of important specimens held in other museums. A large collection of Recent vertebrate osteological specimens plus an extensive scientific library augment our vertebrate fossil research and teaching collections.
The Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory plays a major role in public outreach and education. Outstanding specimens from VPL Collection are on exhibit at Texas Memorial Museum. Holdings have also been on display at the American Museum of Natural History, Big Bend National Park, the Museum of Texas Tech University, National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), and the Witte Museum. VPL professional staff provides advice on the identification and management of fossils and fossil resources to federal, state and tribal agencies, to corporations and environmental consulting firms, and to private individuals.
Another role for the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory has been in technology development and informatics. In particular, through its involvement with the UT High Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility, VPL is fostering application of exciting new technologies such as CT scanning and sophisticated 3-D imaging software to the morphology of fossil and Recent vertebrate specimens.
Sponsorship of research at VPL has been provided by the Geology Foundation of The University of Texas at Austin, National Science Foundation, Texas Advanced Technology Program, and Intel Foundation.