Sarah Sheffield

Sarah is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida in the School of Geosciences, where she teaches a range of classes in paleobiology and sedimentology and stratigraphy. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee and a master’s degree from Auburn University in Alabama, both focused on invertebrate paleontology. Her research focuses on extinct, stemmed echinoderms (the group that includes sea lilies and sea stars): the blastozoans. This group of fossils lived in the Paleozoic (544-251 million years ago) and showed incredible diversity and some unusual features. Within the blastozoans, there are many different subgroups, like the ones Sarah primarily focuses on, the diploporitans. These fossils, which are defined by a type of respiratory structure, called diplopores (double pores), are not well understood and their relationships to other echinoderms are confusing. Sarah’s work tries to learn more about the evolutionary relationships of diploporitans to other blastozoans and learn more about how all blastozoans interacted with their environments while they were alive.  

 To learn more about these puzzling blastozoans, Sarah has done field work in rural Spain, the western coast of Sardinia, and in quarries in southern Indiana to uncover new diploporitan fossils. She has also traveled to museums in the Czech Republic, Estonia, and all over the U.S. to restudy blastozoan collections. Sarah is very active with outreach and promoting scientific literacy in her community. She has worked with a number of regional natural history museums, Skype a Scientist, Letters to a Pre-Scientist, public schools, and Darwin Day at the University of South Florida to get people excited about science and to learn more about evolutionary biology. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys collecting crafting and embroidery, kayaking, hiking, reading all kinds of books, and hanging out with her many pets. Sarah is the committee chair for Time Scavenger’s Virtual Internship Program for Science Communication. Read Sarah’s posts here. Sarah has incorporated Time Scavengers into her classroom through a project in an upper level geology course: USF Paleo/Strat and an internship program: USF Interns. Learn more about Sarah’s teaching, research, and outreach on her website.