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Meet a Paleontologist
This is the North Slope during the summer, at the Kikak-Tegoseak Quarry. Tony is carrying burlap for a plaster field jacket he is about to make. In order to have the plaster set up he had to haul a stove and pot up the bluff to the quarry so he could heat the water, otherwise it was too cold for the plaster to cure.
From left to right these are: Yoshi Kobayashi, Tony Fiorillo, and Thomas Adams. They were on a trip to look at the Cretaceous of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and found dinosaur footprints and published on them in 2012.
Tony Fiorillo in Denali National Park as part of a field school, run out of the Murie Science and Learning Center. Tony has just made a silicone mold of a dinosaur footprint and is now waiting for the molding compound to cure.
Anthony (Tony) R. Fiorillo, Ph.D.
Curator of Earth Sciences
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, TX
NFD Kid's Page Interview...
What is your job, and what do you study?
I am a vertebrate paleontologist. Most of my work focuses on Cretaceous vertebrate paleoecology and taphonomy. Taphonomy is the study of the death and destruction of organisms and by understanding the effects of those processes I can tease out of the fossil record how vertebrates may have lived. The last several years of my career have centered on polar dinosaurs and the environments in which they lived. With its active research program, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science now has one of the most important collections of Arctic, and sub-Arctic, dinosaurs in the world.
What are you working on now?
I am working on dinosaur bones from northern Alaska as well as dinosaur footprints from places like Denali National Park, Alaska. Naming new dinosaurs is only part of the picture, how these high-latitude dinosaurs lived challenges everything we think we know about dinosaurs. Because the dinosaurs I study are all from comparable ages, my team and I are able to piece together a regional picture of the ancient terrestrial Arctic of the Late Cretaceous. This work is important because society is worried today about what a warm Arctic will look like and what it might mean. My team is studying the warm Arctic of some 70 million years ago and our work offers insights for those concerns.
Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?
My Bachelor's degree came from the University of Connecticut, my Master's degree came from the University of Nebraska, and my Ph.D. came from the University of Pennsylvania (PENN). Some of my favorite classes were historical geology, sedimentary geology, stratigraphy, field geology, ecology, zoology, and of course, paleontology.
Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?
Growing up near the Peabody Museum at Yale as well as visiting the New York World's Fair and seeing the Sinclair dinosaur exhibit were major influences on me as a kid. Those experiences made me think about that it might be possible to be a paleontologist. Taking my first geology class as an undergraduate sealed the deal for me.
What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?
Fortunately, I have had many memorable experiences and certainly the work in the Arctic is near the top of the list. But I also look forward to having many more memorable experiences. The most exciting experience is the one that I am working on at the moment.
Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?
There are many skills that need to be acquired, such as writing and good public speaking skills, but I think staying passionate about one's interests is most important. That passion is needed to clear the hurdles ahead.