Vaughn Motley Bryant

Born: October 1940

Died: January 30th, 2021

Dr. Bryant was born to Vaughn Motley Bryant Sr. and Marjorie Price Trafford in Dallas, Texas, in October 1940. His early years were spent in South America, where his father worked as a reporter until his family returned to the United States, where they lived in New Orleans, Houston, and South Carolina. Dr. Vaughn Motley Bryant Jr., Regents Professor, died Saturday, January 30th, at his home in College Station, Texas, surrounded by those he loved.


Vaughn Bryant, Sc.M. is a graduate student in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida. In 2013, Vaughn received his Master’s degree in Behavioral and social sciences from Brown University. In 2010, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from St. Mary’s College in Maryland. Vaughn is presently enrolled in the Neuropsychology program and works as a Graduate Research Assistant at Dr. Ronald Cohen’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory. Working memory: A crucial element underlying alcohol reduction intervention response” was the subject of a three-year Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the grant (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

Dr. Bryant earned a B.A. in Geography in 1964, an M.A. in Anthropology in 1966, and a Ph.D. in Botany in 1969 from the University of Texas at Austin. In 1969, he began his teaching career at the University of Washington. He began his academic career at Texas A&M University in College Station, where he worked in the Department of Anthropology until 1971.

Dr. Bryant’s contributions to Palynology, Quaternary Paleoecology, Prehistoric Diets, Paleoethnobotany, Melissopalynology, Forensic Palynology, and North American Archaeology are invaluable. His numerous publications, collaborations, lecture series, teaching, and lecture engagements are a piece of modest evidence of his passion for his chosen science and his peers’ and students’ admiration for him. Bryant is one of only two forensic palynologists in the United States and one of the country’s top experts in palynology (the study of pollen grains).

He also founded Texas A&M University’s Palynology Laboratory, which is utilized in forensics to track ivory poachers, identify counterfeit honey, assist the federal government in tracking down terrorists, investigate the drug trade, and help investigators in identifying remains. This type of study is possible, according to Andrew Laurence, a former Bryant student who is now the other forensic pollen expert in the United States, since each region has its unique pollen print formed by local flora.

Dr. Bryant, a lifetime swimmer, competed in swimming well into his fifties. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, his children competed in swimming, with one kid and two grandchildren receiving college scholarships.

Dr. Bryant is survived by his wife of 57 years, Carol Ann Bryant, nee Killen, brothers Don T. Bryant and James Southward, cousin Martha Waldorf, and his children Bonnie A. Fisher and husband Bill Fisher (College Station), Dr. Vaughn M. Bryant III and wife Katherine Bryant (Spring), and their children Mary Katherine, Samuel, Virginia, and Anna Belle, and Daniel K. Bryant and wife Shannon Steadman-Bryant (Tomball).

Dr. Bryant was well-liked by many people and will be greatly missed by his family, colleagues, students, and friends. His powerful personality has created a hole that will be felt for many years. In Dr. Bryant’s honor, a scholarship will be established. Please consider donating in Dr. Bryant’s name instead of the traditional remembrances.

In honor of his lifetime dedication and devoted study of botany, a botanical memorial will be built on campus. Friends, students, and coworkers are invited to reflect on their time with Vaughn. Bryant started his career at Texas A&M in 1971, where he helped to establish the anthropology department. What began as his teaching the subject to small groups of students grew in popularity to the point that it became an undergraduate major and, later, a graduate degree program.

Bryant now teaches substantial sections of introductory-level anthropology courses as well as smaller, specialized graduate courses regularly. Bryant recently made history as the first Liberal Arts professor to offer anthropology as a distance-learning course via television and the internet.

His efforts to establish an engaged learning environment for his students, as well as his groundbreaking research, support the college’s aims of providing a transformative learning experience for our students and conducting research that matters. His contributions to society have improved the college’s reputation – and the Department of Anthropology.

“[Bryant’s] positive influence in a scientific endeavor and mentoring generations of scientists has left an enduring impression on the discipline that is more than deserving of the Medal for Scientific Excellence,” said Guy Harrington, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Research Focus

Working memory, alcohol abuse, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and cognitive aging are among Vaughn’s key research interests. His recently received fellowship money will be used to investigate whether working memory and associated neural networks (as measured by brain imaging) can predict reduced alcohol use in HIV-positive heavy drinkers who are concurrently undergoing motivational interviewing treatment for alcohol use. Understanding the factors that influence optimal therapy response can aid in the development of future treatments. He’s also interested in learning more about how alcohol and other comorbid conditions play a role in HIV-related neurocognitive impairment.


A button-down plaid cotton shirt, tan corduroys, blue socks, brown ripple-sole shoes, a pair of underwear, and an oversize red jacket with black stripes down the arms, too huge for the petite frame of the girl who wore it, are all put out in front of him. Bryant has everything but the turquoise necklace that the girl, known only as “Caledonia Jane Doe,” was wearing when she was shot twice in the back and once in the back of the head in a cornfield in western New York on November 10, 1979.

She has no identity, and no missing persons report has ever matched her over the years. Rain washed away much of the evidence as her body lay there all night just outside the small hamlet of Caledonia, New York. The killer had gone by the time a farmer discovered her the next morning. The tan marks on her skin were the only clues law enforcement had as to where she came from.

She was buried under the name “Jane Doe” in a nearby cemetery, but investigators promptly dubbed her “Caledonia Jane Doe,” or “Cali Doe” for short. Leading law enforcement officers from throughout the country received tips in the years after that. John York, the first officer on the scene, was eventually elected sheriff of Livingston County, and he continued to pursue the case. During his decades as sheriff, he traveled to prisons in Texas and Florida to interview 64 serial killers who claimed to be the murderer.

Palynology is the study of palynomorphs, which are decay-resistant microscopic structures of both animal and plant origin. This comprises spermatophyte pollen, spores (fungi, bryophytes, and ferns), dinoflagellates, and a variety of other living and fossilized organic creatures. The study of these small, walled particles can be applied to criminal forensics in a variety of ways.

Pollen and other spores have a diameter of fewer than 50 microns. Pollen can travel unnoticed for long distances, and a tiny sample can yield hundreds of pollen grains. Pollen grains come in a range of shapes and sizes, and numerical identification keys are available for use as a reference.

Forensic palynologists can also turn to large-scale collections of pollen specimens housed in museums and university herbaria. Pollen can be classed based on their size, shape, color, aperture, and ornamentation traits.

A pollen sample from a crime scene can help identify a specific plant species that may have come into contact with a victim, or point to evidence that does not belong in the region biologically. A pollen assemblage is a pollen sample that contains pollen from a variety of plant species. Identification of those species, as well as their relative frequency, can lead to a specific location or season. Pollen is produced in vast quantities by a wide range of plants, and it is intended to be dispersed across the nearby area (through wind, insect, or other means). Pollen can be found in soil and rock samples as well.

Pollen has been used to track activities at mass graves in Bosnia, pinpoint a crime scene, and arrest a burglar who brushed up against a Hypericum bush while committing a crime. Pollen has become a part of current research into forensic bullet coatings due to its unusual morphology, ability to attach to a range of surfaces, and relative indestructibility.

Forensic palynology is a branch of palynology (the study of pollen grains, spores, and other microorganisms) that tries to prove or disprove a link between items, persons, and places in criminal and civil proceedings. Because different portions of the earth, countries, and even different parts of the same garden have diverse pollen assemblages, pollen can reveal where a person or thing has gone. Pollen evidence can also identify the season in which a specific object was pollinated.

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