William Newman: 1927-2020

Marine biologist was renowned expert on seafloor barnacles, valued mentor

William (Bill) Newman, a marine biologist and renowned authority on seafloor invertebrates at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, died Dec. 26 at his home in La Jolla, Calif. He was 93.

Newman’s research touched on many areas of marine biology including analyses of episodic outbreaks of crown-of-thorns seastars in the western Pacific. His renown, however, was in the field of cirripedology, the study of barnacles. In the words of colleague John Buckeridge, his “work on the biology, distribution, evolution, phylogeny, and biogeography of barnacles is the greatest contribution of any scientist since Charles Darwin.” 

According to wife Lynn, who herself has a barnacle species named after her, her husband’s fascination began in 1960 when as a graduate student, he ordered a lobster at the famed Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley, Calif. near where he grew up and found a barnacle clinging to the gills of of his entree. It was the first barnacle species Newman would identify. 

Newman went on to describe 80 new species of barnacles in his career and wrote extensively on their evolutionary history.

“Bill’s research on barnacles touched every ocean and every continent, and he contributed profoundly to our modern understanding of barnacle diversity and geography.  Bill’s PhD thesis was also the first study ever conducted on the physiology and ecology of introduced barnacles in the Eastern Pacific Ocean,” said long-term colleague marine ecologist Jim Carlton of Williams College in Massachusetts.

Newman was born Nov. 13, 1927 in San Francisco and spent his youth fishing and sailing in San Francisco Bay. He served two years in the Army immediately following World War II and received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in zoology from the University of California Berkeley. In 1962, the year Newman received his PhD, he joined Scripps Oceanography as an assistant professor of biological oceanography.

Shortly after his appointment at Scripps Oceanography, Newman moved to Harvard University where he spent two years serving in part as an assistant curator of the university’s marine invertebrate collection. He then returned to Scripps in 1965 and became curator of its Benthic Invertebrate Collection. He became a full professor a decade later. 

“Bill was my predecessor as curator of the Benthic Invertebrate Collection at Scripps Oceanography and I was honored to take over from such a distinguished invertebrate zoologist,” said Scripps marine biologist Greg Rouse. “In his retirement, Bill continued to do research and publish on his beloved barnacles. The Benthic Invertebrate Collection holds over 2,500 lots of barnacles that he deposited there, making it one of the world’s richest collections.”

Newman took part in several of the major expeditions conducted during Scripps Oceanography’s “Golden Age” of exploration in the mid-20th century. In 1969, his expertise in barnacles came to bear during the Carmarsel Expedition to Micronesia, where he had previously taught for a brief period on the island of Truk before joining Scripps. The goal of the expedition was to determine whether landforms in the region such as volcanic islands seemed to sink because of subsidence or because of sea-level rise. The conclusion, drawn in part from data gathered by fossil barnacles, was that it was a complicated mix of both factors. 

Newman and colleague Robert Hessler were selected to present their research to Emperor Hirohito of Japan when the emperor visited Scripps Oceanography in 1975. The pair’s research interests matched that of the emperor, himself an amateur marine biologist who specialized in a class of marine invertebrates called hydrozoans.  

Newman retired in 2006, becoming an emeritus professor who remained active in research, publishing regularly on barnacles in scientific journals through 2020. Colleagues report that his papers will continue to come out in 2021, representing more than 60 years of scientific contributions. 

“Bill was one of the last working survivors of the Golden Age of Zoology,” said Newman’s longtime friend, Scripps Oceanography marine biologist Nicholas Holland. “I have never recognized very many heroes – and now, one fewer.”

Newman is survived by wife Lynn of La Jolla, Calif., sister Barbara Newman Witter of San Francisco, sons William Newman of Atascadero, Calif., James Newman of Pacific Grove, Calif., daughter Doris Newman Horton of Kirkwood, Mo., son Eric Newman of Viroqua, Wisc., stepson Scott Kennedy of Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and 12 grandchildren. 


Newman’s family plans a private ceremony and will scatter his ashes. 




Bill was not just a colleague and mentor in barnacle biology, but a friend who's interests and knowledge extended well beyond science, to encompass all walks of life. But it was his knowledge of barnacles that was so profound, leading to the epithet "Barnacle Bill". It goes without saying that Bill was also an accomplished sailor.


– John Buckeridge, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia


Bill was one of my major professors for my Ph.D. from Scripps Oceanography back in the early 90s.  He taught me much about crustaceans, biogeography, and especially barnacles. He helped launch my career in barnacle research, including some collaborations with him that I will always treasure. Bill was foremost my friend.  His mentorship meant the world to me, but I valued our talks and time together as friends most highly.


– Robert Van Syoc, California Academy of Sciences


Any visitor to Newman’s lab was always warmly welcomed, and yet he was a strict work disciplinarian.  Meeting in the morning almost like a clockwork, he took only a couple of 10min coffee brakes and, being an inveterate “brown bagger”, a small half hour outside his lab enjoying the beautiful view of the Pacific. Inside, the office curtains facing the sea were always drawn so as not to detract him during work hours. Thus, few ever saw him working late in the lab, since family and home featured high with him, as he was a very skilled craftsman in house and garden.


– Jens Hoeg, University of Copenhagen


About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

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At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.

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