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Meet a Paleontologist

Karen Chin


Karen Chin

Karen Chin

Associate Professor and Curator of Paleontology

University of Colorado Boulder

NFD Kid's Page Interview...

What is your job, and what do you study?

My job includes doing research, teaching undergraduate and graduate students, and overseeing our Museum's trace fossil and fossil eggshell collections. My research includes laboratory and field work; I study fossil feces (called coprolites) and other trace fossils in order to learn more about ancient ecosystems.

What are you working on now?

I am continuing my research on fossilized feces to help decipher the feeding behaviors of extinct animals and reconstruct ancient food webs. Fossil feces are challenging to study for several reasons. They can be hard to identify, and it is usually difficult--or downright impossible--to figure out which types of animals produced the ancient feces. It can also be challenging to identify dietary residues inside coprolites. Just think--the food first went through an animal's digestive tract and was then subject to geologic alteration over millions of years! Many coprolites are too poorly preserved to tell us much. But well-preserved specimens can provide important perspectives on ancient ecosystems that we can't learn from body fossils like bones or shells.

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

I received my Bachelor's degree in biology from the University of California at San Diego, my Master's degree in biology from Montana State University, and my doctorate in geological sciences from the University of California at Santa Barbara. I loved taking classes that taught me about ALL different types of organisms--plants, invertebrates, microbes, and vertebrates.

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

When I was growing up, I was very interested in learning about living animals and plants, but I was not particularly interested in extinct organisms. It wasn't until I began preparing dinosaur bones for paleontologist, Jack Horner (at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana) that I came down with fossil fever. Now I find myself thinking about fossils all the time!

What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?

I make a lot of my discoveries when I am looking through my microscope. One of my most memorable experiences was seeing fossilized muscle tissues in a well-preserved tyrannosaur coprolite under the microscope. It was amazing to think that I was observing soft tissues that had been eaten by a dinosaur around 75 million years ago!

Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?

Study hard! And challenge yourself by taking lots of science courses, especially classes in biology, geology, and chemistry.

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  Don Prothero  Bill Parker  Kenshu Shimada  Jason Schein  Robyn Henderek 

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
Don Prothero
Bill Parker
Kenshu Shimada
Jason Schein
Robyn Henderek


Last updated: June 12, 2013