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Meet a Paleontologist
Dr. Ash in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Adjunct Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
NFD Kid's Page Interview...
What are you working on now?
I study the land plants of the early part of the "Age of Dinosaurs". I am especially interested in those from the Triassic Period (about 201 - 252 Ma) which are rather poorly known. This flora is an intermediate flora between the primitive floras of earlier times and the angiosperm flora of the modern world. Consequently, it is an exciting flora to work on because it contains so many new and strange plants that were not known to science until my work and must be assigned to new species, genera, and families of plants. At present I am concentrating my efforts on the Late Triassic fossil flora of Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona because so many of the fossils I find there are new to science. The results of my research have appeared in nearly 150 refereed articles, published mostly in national and international journals and books.
Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?
After earning a Bachelor's degree in History at Midland University in Nebraska I was called to active duty for three years with the U.S. Navy Seabees during which time we worked in a variety of geological environments including the coral islands and reefs of the Caribbean, the deserts of North Africa, and the glacial deposits of eastern Canada. As a result of being exposed to such a variety of geological environments I decided to study geology after being released from active duty. When that happened I entered the University of New Mexico where I earned another Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree in geology. During most of the time that I attended the University of New Mexico I also worked for the U.S. Geological Survey part time. By then I had become very interested in paleontology and began collecting Late Triassic plant fossils at the suggestion of my supervisor who was a paleobotanist. Eventually, at his suggestion I applied to do graduate work in England under the supervision of one of the worldâ€™s experts on the plant life of the early part of the Age of Dinosaurs. He accepted me as his student and two years later I was awarded a PhD from the University of Reading. I then began my teaching career and, as time permitted continued with my study of plant fossils.
My favorite classes were all those that concerned paleontology especially paleobotany, as the study of fossil plants is known, as well as stratigraphy, sedimentology and the history of the earth.
Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?
No, it just developed over time as I was growing up here in New Mexico where you cannot avoid being immersed in geology and paleontology nearly every time you step out of doors as long as you are curious and keep your eyes open.
What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?
Collecting Late Triassic plant fossils from a mine where the early American Geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell had collected some in 1887.
Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?
Yes, they should take as many classes as they can in both zoology and botany in addition to English and mathematics.