Hi! My name is Valerie Trinidad and I’m a recent Geology graduate from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. I like to go for nature walks and collect minerals and rocks (and take the occasional plant home). Although I have yet to visit most, I also like collecting stamps and cards from National Parks.
My favorite subject has always been science and I am particularly interested in pursuing studies related to vertebrate paleontology. I enjoy educating people about the wonderful field of paleontology and the importance of studies in STEM, especially my Puerto Rican community. I engage in outreach activities through talks and exhibitions in collaboration with different associations that promote science communication to the general public.
For my undergraduate research I worked with crocodilians from the Oligocene of southern Puerto Rico. In addition, I also conducted an investigation using osteohistological (study of the bone tissue) analysis from Triassic vertebrate assemblages to explore climate variation across Southern Pangea, with the aim to shed light on the early tolerances of the first dinosaurs and animal groups that originated during this period (i.e., mammals and lepidosaurs). My favorite part is looking at the bones under the microscope (which can be very beautiful), and I find it incredible just how much information is preserved inside these fossils from long, long ago.
My advice for those who are interested in pursuing related studies is the following: It’s not easy, but it definitely isn’t impossible. If you are determined to continue this path, you need to find a way to connect with others and engage in related activities and experiences in whichever way you can. Contacting people can be a bit challenging, but it is key to getting started (there are also mentorship programs out there to help you connect with the right people). In particular, if you identify with underrepresented groups, such as me (a Hispanic woman), it is important to stay and carry on despite any hardships you may encounter. Our persistence is what will further push through the barriers for a more diverse and accepting environment within the scientific community.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hello, this is Aarya, a recent BS-MS graduate from IISER Mohali, India. I am originally from Pune, a city in India. At the age of 8, like every other kid from my school, I was sent to attend Kathak classes (which is one of the Indian classical dance forms). My status as a student of this dance form continues to this day, albeit with some off periods. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I love to dance and watch other dance performances including various dance forms other than Kathak. Apart from that, I once was an avid reader of the genre fiction/ fantasy with a mandatory ‘Harry Potter’ phase. I have also read multiple historical novels as well as fiction and biographies in my mother tongue, Marathi. These days I am trying to get back into reading, which unfortunately hasn’t had a high success rate. Nowadays, you can often find me watching some TV show, the occasional K-Drama and reality TV, or watching many movie review videos/ movie commentaries in my spare time.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? And what is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? As mentioned above, I have recently graduated from IISER Mohali with a degree in Biology. My journey into the field of palaeontology is a little interesting. As an undergraduate in my college, I did not have a clue about which subject I wanted to pursue as a student of science. After stumbling through a small project in astrophysics and contemplating a career in developmental biology while simultaneously going through a pandemic without any lab exposure, I came across a few courses on archaeology. I had always held a fascination for this field ever since a field trip to an archaeological museum (Deccan College Post Graduate University, Pune) in sixth grade. After attending these courses, I initially decided to pursue a thesis project in archaeology. But given my background in biology, I was encouraged by my guide to give the field of Paleontology a try. Therefore, I first stumbled into this field as a final-year student at my university.
My project was focused on a Proboscidean assemblage from the Narmada Valley in India. During this project, I learned how to extract fossils, how to prepare them, and how to document them. I also performed a taphonomic analysis on these fossils. This whole experience made me extremely intrigued about this field and the different questions that can be pursued through this. The sole fact that I was handling something that was present on this earth thousands of years ago and was being used to understand the past environments was fascinating enough for me to decide this field as my career. After my graduation, in an attempt to increase my exposure to palaeontology/ palaeobiology, I am doing an internship at the paleobiology lab at IISER Pune and working on molluscs and some marine mammal fossils. I eventually want to pursue a PhD in this field. I currently find myself interested in looking at the evolution of organisms through time and the different ecological drivers affecting this process but at the same time am looking forward to exploring many aspects of the field as I proceed further with my education.
Do you conduct outreach, and if so, who do you communicate science to? Outreach in this field is something that I would like to take a more active part in. As a university student, I was part of a student-initiated group which focused on some science outreach activities. As a part of these activities, we would go and teach Middle school students from surrounding migrant worker communities (this activity was in collaboration with another NGO called ‘Free Fragrance Tuitions’). We also held book donation drives for nearby government schools. I was also part of the display held by my lab (the Paleo-archeology lab at IISER Mohali) for the Foundation Day of our college. During this activity, we were able to display and give information about different vertebrate fossils to school kids belonging to different grades. I also worked as a junior editor for our college magazine, Manthan, I also wrote an article about a lake filled with human bones from Uttarakhand (Roopkund) in Marathi as part of the initiative to make the content of the magazine more accessible. Currently, I am trying to figure out any other possible avenues for outreach, specifically in this field. One day, I would really like to work on converting the content available about this field and various discoveries related to this field into different regional languages as this will make the field more approachable for many students from different regions.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? I don’t think I am in any position to be giving advice to anybody as I myself am an up-and-coming scientist. But I guess the one thing that I would like to say, at least based on my experience is that it is very rare that someone will know what they want to pursue as a scientist from the get-go. Most of the time, you will have to go through many trials and errors until something sticks. This period of discovery can often be challenging and a little depressing. Therefore, not getting discouraged is the biggest key to establishing yourself as someone who would like to pursue science for the rest of their lives. So let’s just work towards that together!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Living on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, I’m so lucky to be in such a great environment. I love packing up my car and going for hikes, camping, island hopping, and paddling on the ocean. My summer days are spent reading and camping, and my winter (rainy) months are spent playing board games on my couch in front of the fire after a day of skiing. One of my passions outside of my research is my podcast Below the Tide. I get to chat with scientists about their marine research, and make it accessible to the public.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I started my research as an undergraduate project, for course credit. The curator of paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, where I was completing my degree. I had been volunteering with Dr. Arbour for a couple of weeks before March 2020. In September of 2020 she offered me a project that involved looking through some cabinets of cetacean fossils from Vancouver Island that had been collected over the last few decades. The fossils had never been evaluated nor published on. So I jumped in, and learned about fossils as I went. The fossils are from the Oligocene period, which is a geological time period that defines the time of about 23-33 million years ago. This is such an important time in whale evolution; it is the time where we see toothed whales and baleen whales diverging. Before this time, all whales were toothed, and hunted their food. But something happened in this time period where whales started to grow baleen plates in their mouth, and the fun part is that nobody is completely sure why! A really thrilling part of this work is that the fossils were found on Vancouver Island, where I live. My research is helping to contribute to the fossil record of the North Pacific, and putting Vancouver Island on the map to prove the importance of the fossil record here. Oligocene-aged whale fossils are not found everywhere in the world; there are only select geographic areas where fossils from this time period can be found easily, and it just so happens that one of my favourite beaches on the island is a prime fossil hunting location!
Through this project I did some outreach work through the museum; creating accessible learning material in different media types and presenting my research at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in 2021!
I discovered this immense passion for public outreach and making science accessible, through this research project. That was what pushed me to start my podcast: Below the Tide. The goal of Below the Tide is to create a space in which marine scientists can share their research and stories in an accessible way to the public. We break down their research and chat about what their path and fieldwork looks like. I love the idea of bringing attention to so many realms of marine science, but also showing that scientists lead such remarkable lives.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? I’ve always been into science, since I was a kid. My parents were in the science field, but they always encouraged me to follow my own path. My interest in science was different from theirs – I was really intrigued in the inner workings of ecosystems, and marine science. I moved across Canada from Montreal to Victoria to study marine science at the University of Victoria, and completed a bachelor’s degree in biology and earth and ocean sciences. Through my degree I got really interested in paleobiology, specifically cetacean evolution. My other interest in the scientific field really is science communication. I’m excited to see where my podcast takes me, and I hope making science accessible is something I can continue in.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Paleobiology in general is really important for understanding ecosystem and organism evolution, and their responses to changes in the environment. Even looking at cetacean evolution; we can see there was an immense amount of diversity in cetacean populations about 33 million years ago. Today’s cetacean populations are commonly struggling in the face of climate change, and other anthropogenic influences. We can use the past millions of years of changing climate to assess how populations today may face the current issues. The field of anything paleo related isn’t all about fossils; it also includes ancient climates, ecosystems, influences, changes, and so much more. I love how the realm of paleo is so collaborative and is just one big puzzle.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Take opportunities as they are presented to you, and reach out to people. I’m a believer in no opportunity is a waste of time, it definitely is a growing opportunity. If you start a volunteer position in a lab and realize you aren’t keen on lab work; you’ve learned something about yourself! Congrats! It means that you now know that a career or position in a lab may not be your cup of tea. And on the second point; reach out to people if you want to learn about their research. Ask questions, ask for potential volunteer positions, ask for career advice. The worst that will happen is that they will say no. So if you are interested in a certain field, find someone who is in that field and ask to connect. They are your most valuable resource. That way you can ask all the questions, ask for advice, and network.
Tell us a bit about yourself. I am currently a junior in college. I am a transfer student; this summer, I am getting ready to transfer to Augustana College as a geology major from community college. While in community college, I published a couple of pieces in a literary magazine. The first is a creative work called Cole Hollow Road, and the other is a personal reflection piece called Est. 2001, Discovered 2021. Est. 2001, Discovered 2021 reflects on my mental health and growing into who I am. I work about 30 hours a week at a retail store called Blain’s Farm and Fleet. I have been working there since October of 2020. I work in Men’s Clothing, and I mainly sell denim jeans and work boots. With the little free time I have, I explore the outdoors with Noah, my boyfriend, work on my unpublished novel, The Gamemaker, read books on science communication, and write articles while participating in the Time Scavengers VIP SciComm Internship.
What kind of scientist are you, and what do you do? Since I am a junior in college, I am still figuring out what my role is within the scientific community. I love to read and write, and I aspire to be a science communicator, but I’m still figuring out what role best fits me. What I do know is there is a distinctive difference between an intelligent person and a good teacher, and I want to teach others about science in an engaging way.
One of my favorite things about being a scientist is seeing so many cool rocks and learning their stories! I’ve been collecting rocks and fossils since I was seven or eight years old! I enjoy showing others what fossils I have bought or found and telling the stories that accompany them. I also love public speaking and can see myself being successful in either an in-person capacity or creating videos/content online. I also think being a tour guide or research scientist for a National Park would be awesome! I am looking forward to exploring my options as I continue my education.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My beginning journey into the scientific community is a little bit unusual. I was first introduced to fossils in a Worldview, Logic, and Apologetics class (which is about advocating for the Christian Faith). I worked on an extensive project that asked the students to study a field of science of their choice in order to find evidence in support of the Christian faith. It was a very intriguing and motivating project that has led me down a now six-year philosophical and scientific journey to figure out how these two pieces of my life, religion and science, can coexist. Because of this class, I wanted to be a geologist because I wanted to know as much about our origins as humans, but also what has happened to our planet in geologic time. I also want to know how to learn from nature about our history, but also what we can do to maximize our future.
I grew up with a stigma that in order to be a scientist, you needed to be an expert in math, lab activities, and memorization. I grew up attending a college prep school where STEM majors usually were pre-med or engineer inclined. I knew I was not interested in studying those fields (even though they are awesome in their own right!), and felt it was hard to keep up with kids in my classes because my focus was different. It was a very competitive environment, especially because I lacked confidence in my ability in the skills I thought were necessary. However, after learning what geology was about in college, I knew I had found my place. Geology integrated my love for weird creatures, writing, and being outside! Combined with my natural inclination to write, I quickly fell in love with the idea of becoming a science communicator.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I once had a classmate tell me he used to be interested in paleontology, but they thought it was a “dead” science and became readily disinterested. The more I delved into the literature, the more I knew he was far from the truth! My goal as a scientist is to advocate for the amazing things we can learn about our world through science (but especially paleontology!), and to hopefully encourage aspiring scientists that they can find their place in the scientific community. One way I have begun to do so is by starting my blog called Perusing the Primeval. My blog currently has a Book Review Section that includes the latest books in science communication. I have a review template that shares how technical the book is to help the reader get a sense for who the book’s intended audience is. There are a wide variety of books available, and my goal is to help someone looking for new recommendations to find something they will enjoy. I am currently working on a Species Spotlight section that will highlight a certain extinct species represented in the fossil record.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? As I said before, I grew up in a competitive academic environment. I often felt like I was in academic “no man’s land”; I was bored in regular classes, but I was crawling to keep up in the advanced classes. I enjoyed school and wanted to challenge myself, so I was often comparing myself to kids who were more academically inclined in subjects that did not come naturally to me. I felt like I needed to compete against them in order to get a spot in a good college. Rather than focus on my strengths when applying to colleges, I pushed myself to do things I didn’t really like because I thought I needed to compete for my spot. I thought “being amazing at everything” was my ticket to a good school, but I found out very quickly that wasn’t true. If you are interested in going to college (or trade school or an apprenticeship), I would encourage you to lean on your strengths. If you have strong passions or interests, fuel the fire! Continue to hone in on those skills. If you aren’t quite sure of what you want, try different things and see what you like – but maybe not all at once. Your physical and mental health will thank you. If we as individuals were all “amazing” at everything, we wouldn’t need each other!
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, I am an aspiring scientist from birth who loves the outdoors and hopes to make a difference in the world. When I’m not doing research, I prefer to spend my time going out and seeing new things, whether that’d be a new nature trail, or a fun night with friends, there is always something to enjoy about life, which is why I have a strong passion for helping the world and all its beauty.
I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida, on my senior year for a Geology B.S., I have plans to go to Grad school in the future, and hopefully attaining a PhD as my career progresses. My focus is paleontology, and all the research I have done so far is on invertebrate animals, more specifically on crinoid evolution and echinoderms. I am currently performing research on a growth series of eight samples of Erisocrinus typus lead by Whitney Lapic and with the help of Dr. Sarah Sheffield and a previous study of hers. We mostly focus on reading past studies from many authors that talk about the species we are dealing with and examining samples to understand how these animals used to grow. Our goal is to have a publication on this by the end of the year. My goal is to keep doing research such as this for the foreseeable future and perhaps focus on other part of paleontology as well, not just confined to invertebrates.
As discussed previously, my main goal as a scientist is to make a difference in the world, and I chose to do so by studying our past. Growing up, I was surrounded by a country drowned in conflict and turmoil, I took these experiences as motivation to change this, not just for my country, but for the entire world. The change that needs to occur for a better tomorrow, starts with the right information, and science is the pursuit of this information, all facets of science are bound by this uniting principal. My work does not have obvious major implications for our society, but understanding the development of ocean creatures, even those of hundreds of millions of years ago can have contextual importance to our understanding of the oceans today and how global climates have changed in the past. Paleontology focuses on gaining an understanding of the past so that we can have an idea of what our future holds.
A contribution that I hope to make to the scientific community is to facilitate the exchange of information between English speaking scientists and Spanish speaking ones, since my native language is Spanish, and I am fluent in it, my hope is to broaden the range in which paleontology can be talked about and end the age of Eurocentrism for science.
For any up-and-coming scientist, whether they are paleontologists, or any other kind of scientist, I would strongly advise to never limit yourself due to your expectations of what you should be. Scientists are talked about as these unreachable and mighty individuals that hold the infinite knowledge of everything, and this notion can make it difficult sometimes to get in contact with professors or mentors, but the reality is that scientists are just humans, who aren’t perfect, and are just as capable as anyone else, don’t have reservations about reaching out to the members of your college or the faculty of your university, there is always a need for bright minds.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science in general?
I have almost always been interested in science, ever since I was a little kid. I used to like to do “magic” science tricks at home like putting a bar of soap and pepper in a bowl and showing how I could make the pepper float away from the soap. Science for me was always good at explaining the reason behind why certain things happened the way they did. To be honest, that is my favorite part of being a scientist. I am able to help people know why something is the way it is or at least come up with hypotheses as to why.
What do you do?
I am a teacher and an amateur paleobotanist, a person who likes to study fossil plants. The field of paleobotany is like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle except you don’t know how many pieces your puzzle has, you don’t know if all your current pieces belong to the same puzzle or different puzzles, and some of your pieces have been torn, bitten, or smudged. You seldom find a plant that has been fossilized in its entirety. You usually find a leaf here, a stem there, maybe some roots over there, and a sporangium over here. Chances are each part has also been given its own genus name or species name because the person who found the part did not know if it belonged to one of the other parts. Over time paleobotanists work together to try to link all these parts together and show that they belonged to one plant or multiple plants.
What methods do you use to engage your audiences? What have you found to be the best way to communicate science?
I think the best way to teach science is you have to make it relevant to whomever is listening. Children like science because they are naturally curious about the world around them. The question is, how you can you make it relevant to their lives? I loved my soap and black pepper magic experiment because it involved two things I had in my house and I regularly saw. With fossil plants, it’s a bit more difficult but I can still show kids a fossil and then show them the nearest living relative of that ancient plant. The Ginkgo tree is a great example of this because it is a living fossil and many of its ancient relatives have similar leaves that are easily identifiable.
How does your research contribute to the understanding of evolution?
I have not done any research as of late, but my previous research aimed to clarify evolution of lycopods in North America. Essentially I was trying to show that multiple species and genera of lycopods were all the same plant. This would help in the study of plant evolution and prehistoric ecology because it would help us learn more about the biodiversity that lived in these Carboniferous swamps. From a societal perspective, it’s important because I think it is always good for people to know about the natural history of the land they live on.
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists?
My advice to any aspiring scientist is know that setbacks will happen. Things won’t always go the way you want them to go and that’s perfectly okay. I thought I would go into college, get perfect science grades, and be on to the next stage of my life. I was wrong. I found science classes to be very challenging and my undergraduate GPA showed it, although I was a great researcher and I loved the classes. Because of my not-so-stellar grades, I graduated with my Bachelor’s and tried out other careers because I thought I was not fit for paleontology. I worked as a pharmaceutical auditor for a while then seven years as an ESL/EFL teacher abroad (ESL/EFL- English as a second/first language). I was good at both jobs but I felt unfulfilled because these weren’t careers that I wanted but jobs that I was just good at. This led me to start pondering what I really wanted in life for several months until I realized that I wanted to return to the field of paleontology. After asking around and researching different graduate programs, I settled on one that I wanted to attend. To sum up, my advice is to know that setbacks will happen. You can plan as much as you want but things may not go accordingly.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you become interested in science?
From my earliest memories I have always had an interest in dinosaurs and fossils. I grew up in Bellbrook, Ohio, where I spent many a day playing in the creeks in Magee Park and the Sugarcreek Reserve. Both were loaded with fossils from the famous Cincinnatian series of the Ordovician. While collecting fossils is my absolute favorite, I’ve always been fascinated by science and nature in general, with interests in biology, geology, minerals, astronomy, engineering and physics, as well as art, cooking and photography.
What do you do?
I have a degree in Landscape Architecture, but I work as a mechanical designer in the aerospace industry. Currently, I design tools that are used to build jet engines. I create the 3D models and drawings, which are used to make the tools.
While I haven’t as yet spent much time doing my own research, I’ve been blessed to help the professionals with numerous papers based on specimens I collected. I love and collect all fossils, so I’ve not concentrated on any particular group or type. I feel this has been advantageous, as it gives me more opportunities to work with the various scientists who do have areas of specialty. Lately, I’ve been working with Dr. Alycia Stigall on brachiopods. In the past I worked with Dr. Roger Cuffey on bryozoans, and Dr.’s Carlton Brett and David Meyer on Godzillus. As a member of the Dry Dredgers, the oldest fossil club in North America, I get to contribute regularly. I take meeting photos for the website, bring in specimens for others to examine, and occasionally write something for the newsletter or website. I also volunteer, and am an exhibitor, at Geofair every year, and occasionally play fossil tour guide at local parks or give presentations with my portable fossil display.
How does your research contribute to the understanding of climate change, evolution, or to the betterment of society in general?
I have a talent for finding rare, unusual or exceptional fossils. I bring these specimens to the attention of the professionals so that they can be properly studied, and sometimes, they are used to write a scientific paper and are deposited in a museum or university collection for future scientists to study. Godzillus has been my best effort so far. It actually became very famous! I collect everything prodigiously. The quality specimens are made available to professionals for research projects, and the rest is given to the Dry Dredgers to make the fossil kits that fund club activities, or given to school kids.
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists?
Your life will be far richer if you pursue your interests. Find others who share your passions, join a club, volunteer. You won’t regret it!
What is your favorite part about being a scientist? How did you become interested in science?
I’m an amateur paleontologist. That makes me a time traveler. I like traveling through time.
I see sequences of stratigraphic layers that represent ancient sea floors all in about the same place, but in different instances of time. Sometimes I’ll pull over at a road cut in Northern Kentucky and see the remains of animals and plants that lived 450 million years ago. And yet, I can easily picture myself in the late Ordovician Period. These animals were alive and swimming in a warm shallow sea.
As I climb the road cut, ascending through the rock layers, I am going forward in Ordovician time at a rate of thousands of years per second. I stop on a ledge. Time freezes. I see meter-length ripple marks in the bedrock that extend across the ledge as if I’m standing on a sea floor with wave action winnowing the silty bottom. I’m astonished with the variety of fossilized animals still resting in exactly the same spot where they once lived.
The event of these creatures’ death is also recorded beneath my feet. I’m compelled to learn more. How did they die? Was it something they ate? I feel I can answer those questions using scientific methods.
We have such power now as amateurs in many areas of science. Human beings are naturally curious. Even as a young child I conducted experiments and recorded my results. My neighbor told me that when I was young, she saw me conduct an experiment to verity the speed of sound. I stood at one end of our cul-de-sac, shouted, and ran super-fast (a technical term), stopped abruptly with unprecedented precision and listened for my shout. You can guess that I didn’t succeed in verifying the speed of sound that day, but it’s the spirit of trying that counts. I was inquisitive at an early age. I knew that science facts are verifiable and ready to be revised and improved by all of us. We are all amateur scientists!
What do you do?
Professionally, I program large-scale computer systems. But at home I collect fossils as a hobby. This hobby has become my way to contribute to the field of Paleontology and to education.
I started out in the late 1980’s just collecting fossils for recreation in my local streams and fields. I love getting out there and listening to the birds and finding evidence of our ancient past. It’s a great pastime I highly recommend.
It wasn’t long before I wanted my efforts to be worth more than just recreation. So I joined the Dry Dredgers fossil club based at the University of Cincinnati. I met knowledgeable educators and other amateur and professional paleontologists who could use my fossils for teaching and research. They taught me a great deal, which made my daily fossil collecting much more enjoyable.
I was also able to give my extra fossils to the Dry Dredgers “Cincinnati Fossils” kits and benefit both the club and education. They sell bags of 12 Ordovician fossils “From the Hills of Cincinnati” at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science gift shop. The money goes into the club’s general fund which feeds paleontological research grants and projects while the kits help schools and fellow fossil enthusiasts.
I quickly became chair of the fossil kit committee. Now 27 years later, Kimberly Cox and I sell the Dry Dredgers fossil kits in park and museum gift shops around the area and donate some kits and loose fossils to teachers, schools and outreach facilitators. Fossils used in our fossil kits are currently screened for scientific importance so that each fossil is put to the best use. Some may be deposited into a museum collection. I want collectors who give Cincinnati fossils to the Dry Dredgers to know their donation will benefit educational outreach and/or the science of paleontology.
Another big part of my educational outreach efforts is the Dry Dredgers website, which I designed and have updated since 1998. We are fortunate to have a number of Dry Dredgers who have contributed all types of information about our late Ordovician fossils for the website. You will see me at all local Dry Dredgers field trips taking photographs of the fossils people find and helping identify the specimens. See my field trip reports here.
How does your research and outreach contribute to the understanding of paleontology?
I’ve always hoped that in this short life I could make a dent in the advancement of mankind. We pop into this world, have just enough time to look around and figure a few things out, pass on what we’ve learned and then pop out of existence.
For the last 20+ years, I have been gathering information and fossils from dozens of fossil sites in the Cincinnati area in the hope that it will advance our body of knowledge on Earth’s ancient past. In addition to educating the public with our Dry Dredgers website and building classroom fossil kits, my collection of Ordovician sediment and microfossils are helping professional paleontologists advance our knowledge of the evolution of nacre (mother-of-pearl) in mollusks and our understanding of the deposition of phosphate, an essential mineral for our existence.
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists?
Ask questions. Our society often discourages “questioning” accepted wisdom. Don’t let that stop you. Questions are how new knowledge is obtained. Be inquisitive and find out more than what others know. Discover things for yourself. Be an amateur scientist!
You can learn more about Bill Heimbrock’s amateur paleontology adventures on myfossil.org!
What is your favorite part about being a scientist and how did you get interested in science in general?
My favorite part about being a citizen scientist is that I get to talk to and meet different people of all ages who want to know what lies in the Earth’s rocks. There were many things that drew me into the fields of paleontology and geology. One of the main reasons was my exposure to a teacher’s fossil collections while I was in the 2nd grade. I knew what fossils were but I had never actually held one at the time. At this time, a 4th grade teacher invited me and a friend (who was also interested in fossils) to her classroom to look at her fossil collection.
She pulled out a drawer and inside were various kinds of fossils. She had fossil specimens such as trilobites, plants, shells, and even a dinosaur coprolite (fossilized feces). She gave me a crinoid stem that she found in the Fort Payne Formation of Tennessee and thus began my journey into paleontology and later geology.
What do you do?
I provide lectures and communicate with the public about paleontology and geology. I have given talks in museums, geological societies, schools, and other events about the various topics in geology. My main focus is in historical geology and deep time geology. I try to communicate with the public about how vast geological time is by using the telltale signatures in the fossils and rocks around you. I have keen interests in early Earth and the remnants of that time as well as Paleozoic and Mesozoic paleontology and geology. I also discuss things such as the fossils that have been found in the state I live in, Georgia.
How do your efforts contribute to the betterment of society in general?
Fossils and rocks are key to the Earth’s long history. In order to understand how we as a species will survive the next few million years on this planet we call home, we have to look into how life and the factors affecting life have evolved through time. As the great geologist Charles Lyell once said, “The present is key to the past.” I constantly have my head buried in scientific literature and read what others have built on and even how it has changed based on new data that has been collected by scientists across the world.
What methods do you use to engage your community/audiences? What have you found to be the best way to communicate science?
When I communicate to the the public, I always stress the understanding of deep time and the importance of that concept. The concept of deep time isn’t new. It has been known since the days of James Hutton (1726-1797). Deep time is the vast expanse of time locked inside the rock and fossil record. When we think of time we normally think in terms of minutes or seconds. Geologists talk about time in the order of thousands, millions, or even billions of years. It is hard for average person to grasp such an immense scale of time. I try to make this more understable by setting fossils in chronological order to give people a idea on how fossils and environments change through each interval of the geological time scale.
I also use the “Pen Method”. Let’s say I order a new set of ink pens from the store. I open the top of the pen and on it is a small plastic ball to protect in pen from drying out. If you take all of human existence and crunch it up, human existence would fit on the plastic ball of the tip of a new pen. That would be example on how small we are in the vast geologic history of planet Earth.
What advice would you give to young aspiring scientists?
Never ever give on up on what you are passionate about. There is more than one way to become a paleontologist. Let nothing get in your way. Find opportunities around you and take advantage of them. Communicate with scientists and ask questions. Learn how to to read the secrets that are locked in the rocks. Even the smallest secrets can tell you a huge story of a lost world.
Greetings, Time Scavengers. When I was contacted to participate in this week’s Meet the Scientist blog my immediate thought was on my lack of qualifications. I hold no PhD, no Masters, and I am not currently employed in any science field. What I do have is a lifelong appreciation for science and an obsession for collecting fossils.
I collect fossils mainly around northern Alabama, a region rich in Lower Carboniferous aged limestone (~350 million years ago). This started innocently enough by helping a friend gather landscaping rocks several years ago. I found a rugose horn coral that day and have never stopped looking down. I attended a paleontology group meeting out of Birmingham, Alabama for some guidance in identifying some of my early finds and through that paleontology group, I met a mentor. Studying under and hunting with that mentor is where I discovered a love for fossil echinoderms.
Echinoderms are fascinating. One of the longest-lived group of invertebrates on this planet and they are still around. That sand dollar you find on the beach or that starfish you spy in a tidal pool has a looong history! And there is still so much research to be done. Debate lingers on the exact origins of the crinoid (my personal echinoderm favorite.) Research on starfish and brittle stars is underrepresented and there are so many undescribed species.
Amateurs like me depend on that research, in the form of scholarly articles to help us identify our fossils as much as the paleontologists depend on us amateurs to provide them with viable specimens to study. I have donated to the Alabama Museum of Natural History in the past and one day will donate my whole collection at large. I just haven’t finished the collection yet. Fossil collecting is like playing Pokemon, but with genera of crinoids.
I suppose the main point of my ramblings thus far is to challenge you guys to find your passion, find a mentor along the way to teach you, and take that passion even further than I have. I look forward to reading your future articles!
To follow Jess Cost’s collecting adventures on her Instagram account, click here!