Alfred W. Crompton was born on the 21st of February 1927 in Durban, South Africa. He attended high school at the Diocesan College in Rondebosch, SA, and then attended Stellenbosch University where in 1947 he earned his BSc in Zoology as an undergraduate. He stayed on at Stellenbosch to study Comparative Embryology and earn Master and Doctor of Science degrees (MSc, DSc), where he wrote a doctoral thesis in 1951 on the development of the skull in the penguin. He then moved to the University of Cambridge, where he received his PhD three years later, and wrote his PhD thesis in 1954 on Triassic cynodonts from east Africa.
Crompton returned to South Africa in 1954 as the Curator of Paleontology at the National Museum in Bloemfontein; and in 1956 he became Director of the South African Museum in Cape Town. In 1964 he left South Africa once more when Yale University hired him as Professor of Biology and Geology and Director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. He initiated the use of cineradiography in 1967 at the Peabody Museum to study kinetics in living vertebrates, on the understanding that this technique would be a valuable tool for interpreting the structure and function of ancestral forms. In later years he has expanded on this approach to research the neuromuscular control of all aspects of feeding in a wide variety of vertebrates.
In 1970 Crompton moved to Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, where he served both as Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and Professor of Biology. In 1972 he was awarded the Alexander Agassiz Professorship; and in 1985 became the Fisher Professor of Natural History, which he remained until his retirement from teaching in 2000. He stayed on as Fisher Research Professor of Natural History until his Emeritus appointment in 2003, under which he continues to conduct research to this day.
Alfred W. Crompton received a Humboldt Fellowship to study in Munich in 1960. He was the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships (1976 and 1983), has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1969 and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1999.
Most of Crompton’s paleontological research is based upon the study of synapsids. He went on numerous field trips in South Africa and Tanzania and discovered several middle to late cynodonts and some of the first Jurassic mammals from southern Africa.
In 2012 Crompton was awarded the Romer-Simpson Medal for a lifetime achievement in Vertebrate Paleontology.