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Meet a Paleontologist

Dr. Andy Heckert Andy Heckert in the field.

 

Dr. Andy Heckert Andy Heckert testing the size of an Acrocanthosaurus mouth.

 

Dr. Andy Heckert Andy Heckert outstanding in the field.

Dr. Andy Heckert

Associate Professor of Geology

Department of Geology, Appalachian State University


NFD Kid's Page Interview...

What is your job, and what do you study?

My job is to teach geology classes, perform research in vertebrate paleontology, and run a small teaching museum. In additional to "typical" vertebrates, like dinosaurs, I work on microvertebrates (bones and teeth less than 1 cm long), principally from the Triassic, but also the Jurassic and Cretaceous as well. These microvertebrates can represent a variety of animals, including reptiles, mammals, bony fish, sharks, and amphbiians.

What are you working on now?

Right now I have research projects on a variety of Late Triassic vertebrates. In addition to microvertebrates I study a group of armored archosaurs (crocodile relatives) called aetosaurs, and I have papers on aetosaur fossils from North Carolina and Argentina in progress with colleagues from around the world. I also have projects related to Triassic fossils I have collected in New Mexico and Arizona, a manuscript on a very strange reptile named Colognathus, and most recently, I've begun working on some fossil footprints and the stratigraphy of the Moenkopi Formation in Dinosaur National Monument.

Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?

I earned my bachelor's degree at Denison University, where I loved my geology courses, especially historical geology, sedimentology and stratigraphy, and paleontology. I also took a great evolutionary biology course there. I then went to the University of New Mexico for my master's degree and Ph.D. There I undertook a variety of field projects in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science—we're still getting fossils out of those jackets, so I visit that museum often to see what they have discovered since the last time I was there.

Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?

I grew up around fossils, collecting invertebrate fossils in southwestern Ohio, but a visit to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago when I was in kindergarten really inspired me—I learned to read in part on dinosaur books my parents bought for me in the Field Museum gift store.

What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?

I vividly remember driving home after spending 18 days in the field excavating fossils from the Upper Triassic Snyder quarry in northern New Mexico. We were totally exhausted after dealing with bad weather and three days of nothing but heavy pick-and-shovel work. Still, I was thrilled with our results, and could not wait to go back again.

Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?

Success in paleontology boils down to just a few key traits: Be willing to read a lot; use that to practice writing; and take as many math and science classes as you can. Go to museums to see the fossils, and legally collect fossils in the real world if you live where this is possible. Spend time observing nature, even if it's a city park, but if possible visit the National Parks—they are some of the best and most beautiful classrooms on the planet.


NFD Kid's Page Paleontologist Interviews:

Cassi Knight  Roy Plotnick  Thomas Holtz  Sidney Ash  Joshua Samuels  Alan Titus  Vince Santucci  Josh Bonde 
Michelle Pinsdorf  Glenn W. Storrs  Rebecca Hunt-Foster  Arthur J. Boucot  Robert B. Blodgett  Greg McDonald  Eric Scott  Sally Shelton 
Hans Deitre-Sues  Jim Kirkland  Alton Dooley  Karen Chin  Erica Clites  Katie Loughney  Richard Kissel  Andrew Heckert 
John Repetski  Christy Visaggi  John Hoganson  Scott Foss  Bruce Schumacher  Scott Sampson  Greg Liggett  Jere Lipps 
Matthew Miller  David Brezinski  James Hagadorn  Kari Prassack  Tony Fiorillo  Mike Fracasso  Diana Boudreau  Phil Varela 
Mindy Householder  Andrew Milner 

Cassi Knight
Roy Plotnick
Thomas Holtz
Sidney Ash
Joshua Samuels
Alan Titus
Vincent Santucci
Josh Bonde
Michelle Pinsdorf
Glenn W. Storrs
Rebecca Hunt-Foster
Arthur J. Boucot
Robert B. Blodgett
Greg McDonald
Eric Scott
Sally Shelton
Hans Deitre-Sues
Jim Kirkland
Alton Dooley
Karen Chin
Erica Clites
Katie Loughney
Richard Kissel
Andrew Heckert
John Repetski
Christy Visaggi
John Hoganson
Scott Foss
Bruce Schumacher
Scott Sampson
Greg Liggett
Jere Lipps
Matthew Miller
David Brezinski
James Hagadorn
Kari Prassack
Tony Fiorillo
Mike Fracasso
Diana Boudreau
Phil Varela
Mindy Householder
Andrew Milner

 

Last updated: November 22, 2013