• Paleontologist: Paul Sereno
    Paul Sereno is a paleontologist.

    Photograph by Mark Thiessen

    By Stuart Thornton

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    EARLY WORK

    Paul says he developed an interest in science as a kid, mostly outside of the classroom. While growing up in Naperville, Illinois, he received a butterfly-collecting kit from his father and built a go-kart from scratch.

    A behind-the-scenes tour of a museum during college inspired Paul to pursue paleontology. “It was very clear after that I could combine art, travel, adventure, science, the whole works,” he says. “It was all related.”

    Paul, his brother, and his four sisters all pursued careers in science. “I have to attribute that to being challenged to make your life interesting as a kid,” he says.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “The most fulfilling things are when you do something that you think only you could do, and you leave a mark on science that way.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    Paul says the most difficult part of his profession is maintaining personal relationships and diplomacy while juggling different responsibilities. “It’s mega multi-tasking,” he says.

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    The paleontologist believes geography is not just the current landscape, but also what has happened to that landscape over time.

    “The geography of the present world is one of many geographies that have existed and are really deserving of our interest and attention,” he says.

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Paul says he uses geography to find the best places to search for fossils. “It’s really a geographic exercise of combining a topographic [map] over a geologic map,” he says. “That identifies the areas that are plausibly accessible and the age of the Earth that will guide you to the hunting grounds.”

    The paleontologist also notes that GPS technology, a satellite-based navigation system, has revolutionized his profession. “The GPS has been the most fundamental tool that has transformed ours and other disciplines in the sense that when you find something, you can always re-find it,” Paul says.

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . PALEONTOLOGIST

    “As always, I think that it’s great to get involved in extra-curricular activities, museum activities, any way that you can show and express an experience or interest,” he says.

    In addition, Paul believes watching a scientist work can be inspiring and informative. “The best stimulus for a kid that has never considered science—much less a kid that is interested in science—is to let them experience a real scientist and the excitement that drives real science,” he says.

    GET INVOLVED

    “There are state parks and paleontological exploration spots all around us in every state,” Paul says. “There is no way to understand paleontology, time traveling, and geography without going out and putting your feet on the ground.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    diplomacy Noun

    art and science of maintaining peaceful relationships between nations, groups, or individuals.

    Encyclopedic Entry: diplomacy
    Explorer-in-Residence Noun

    pre-eminent explorers and scientists collaborating with the National Geographic Society to make groundbreaking discoveries that generate critical scientific information, conservation-related initiatives and compelling stories.

    fossil Noun

    remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fossil
    geologic map Noun

    representation of spatial information displaying data about rocks and minerals.

    Global Positioning System (GPS) Noun

    system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.

    go-kart Noun

    small four-wheeled vehicle often built for racing.

    multi-task Verb

    to perform several different jobs or activities at the same time.

    museum Noun

    space where valuable works of art, history, or science are kept for public view.

    navigation Noun

    art and science of determining an object's position, course, and distance traveled.

    Encyclopedic Entry: navigation
    paleontology Noun

    the study of fossils and life from early geologic periods.

    Encyclopedic Entry: paleontology
    revolutionize Verb

    to completely change a process or way of doing something.

    satellite Noun

    object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.

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