Dr Mike Simms

Senior Curator of Natural Sciences

  • Department: Natural Sciences
  • Email address: Michael.Simms@nmni.com

Core responsibilities:

Overall responsibility for the Natural Sciences collections, and in particular the fossils, minerals, rocks and meteorites.

Staff background:

Mike found his first fossils at the age of 6, more than 50 years ago, developed a similar passion for minerals a few years later, and by the age of 9 had decided to become a geologist. As a teenager, he made many visits to local museums (Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bristol) to help identify their Jurassic fossils. 

Mike has a First Class degree in Geology with Zoology from Bristol University and studied for a PhD on Jurassic crinoids, an interest that he first developed as a schoolboy, at Birmingham University. 

He joined the Ulster Museum in 1996 as Curator of Palaeontology following various research, lecturing and curatorial posts in Britain and Ireland, including time at National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. 

Mike has been closely involved in some of the most successful exhibitions at the Ulster Museum. He was lead curator (and a cartoon character!) for Dippy on Tour when it visited the Ulster Museum in 2018, and he devised and curated the immensely popular Elements exhibition that opened in 2014. 

Mike’s research on the museum’s collections has included publications on fossil echinoderms, ammonites, archaeological material, and the only dinosaur remains known from Ireland. His other areas of research have included caves and landscape evolution, giant meteorite impacts, and Triassic climate change. In 1988, with his co-author Dr Alastair Ruffell (QUB), he discovered a major climate change and mass extinction event known as the Carnian Pluvial Episode. This has since become a major focus of palaeoclimate research worldwide. 

As if having his own cartoon character isn’t enough, Mike has had three fossils named after him by other palaeontologists; a chimaeroid fish (the oldest one known) called Eomanodon simmsi, based on a tooth which he discovered when aged just 15, and two crinoids called Fusicrinus simmsi and Democrinus simmsi

Staff interests:

Mike is a geologist first and foremost but his interests have broadened considerably over the years, and he continues to develop new ones. Since 2003 he has been particularly interested in meteorites and the early history of the Solar System, while his interest in caves goes back to the mid-1980s when he first took up caving. Mike has an interest too in tidal bores, having grown up within cycling distance of the Severn Estuary and seen the Severn Bore, and others, many times.

Mike’s interests extend into the living world and he has been a keen lichenologist since 1990, contributing more than 25,000 records from the UK and Ireland to the databases of the British Lichen Society and Lichen Ireland. He is particularly interested too in millipedes, non-marine molluscs (land snails, slugs and freshwater molluscs) and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). Mike enjoys exploring hillsides, wooded glens and other places in search of these (if he isn’t distracted by the geology!) and has amassed an enormous library of reference photographs of lichens and bryophytes (and geology, of course). 

During the lockdown of 2020, he started compiling a list of all living species inhabiting his garden, and the 1km square in which he and his family live. Currently, it stands at more than 310 species for the garden and 430 for the square.

Collection Stories

Photograph of Dr Mike Simms
Dr Mike Simms

Town and Country Lichens

Photograph of Dr Mike Simms
Dr Mike Simms



Books and chapters 

Simms, M.J. and Coxon, P. 2016. The pre-Quaternary landscape of Ireland. Pp. 19-42 in P. Coxon, S. McCarron, F. Mitchell (eds), Advances in Irish Quaternary Studies. Atlantis Advances in Quaternary Science, Atlantis Press, Springer. 

Simms, M.J. 2009. The Permian and Mesozoic. Pp. 311-332 in C.H.Holland and I.S.Sanders (eds), The Geology of Ireland, 2nd Edition. Dunedin Academic Press, 568 pp. 

Simms, M.J., Chidlaw, N., Morton, N. and Page, K.N. 2004. British Lower Jurassic Stratigraphy. Geological Conservation Review Series, 30, 458 pp. 

Hess, H., Ausich, W.I., Brett, C.E. and Simms, M.J. 1999. Fossil Crinoids. Cambridge University Press, 275 pp. 

Waltham, A.C., Simms, M.J., Farrant, A.R. and Goldie, H. 1997. The Karst and Caves of Great Britain. Geological Conservation Review Series, 12, 358 pp. 

Journal articles 

Simms, M.J., Smyth, R.S.H., Martill, D.M., Collins, P.C. and Byrne, R., 2020. First dinosaur remains from Ireland. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 9 pp. 

Simms, M.J. and Edmunds, M., 2020. Ammonites from the Lias Group (Lower Jurassic, Sinemurian and Pliensbachian) of White Park Bay, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association

Simms, M.J. and Ruffell, A.H. 2018. The Carnian Pluvial Episode: from discovery, through obscurity, to acceptance. Journal of the Geological Society of London175, 989-992. 

Simms, M.J. 2015. The Stac Fada impact ejecta deposit and the Lairg Gravity Low: Evidence for a buried Precambrian impact crater in Scotland? Proceedings of the Geologists' Association126, 742-761. 

Simms, M.J. and Jeram, A.J. 2007.  Waterloo Bay, Larne, Northern Ireland: a candidate Global Stratotype Section and Point for the base of the Hettangian Stage and Jurassic System. Newsletter of the International Subcommission on Jurassic Stratigraphy34(1), 50-68. 

Simms, M.J. 2004. Tortoises and Hares: dissolution, erosion and isostasy in landscape evolution. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms29, 477-494.  

Simms, M.J., 1989. British Lower Jurassic Crinoids. Palaeontographical Society Monograph, 142, no 581. 103 pp, 15 pls. 

View recent publications

Semi-popular articles

Simms, M.J. 2020. Memories of Draenen [cave system in south Wales]. Descent: The magazine of underground exploration, 275, 30-31.

Simms, M.J. 2015b. A buried Precambrian impact crater in Scotland, or what we did on our holiday. Earth Matters, 12, 6-7.

Simms, M.J. 2015a. Elements of the Earth. Earth Science Ireland, 17, 34-36.

Simms, M.J. 2013. The extraordinary story of the most ‘ordinary’ meteorites: The L Chondrites. Meteorite Magazine19 (4), 14-19. 

Simms, M.J. 2012. Ulster Museum Focus: An ancient sea monster revealed. Earth Science Ireland, 11, 30-31.

Simms, M.J. 2008. Licheneering around Ireland. Biodiversity in Ireland, 2, 8.

Simms, M.J. 2006. Exploring the limestone landscapes of the Burren and the Gort lowlands. Second Revised Edition. Published by the author, 64 pp.