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Meet a Paleontologist

Dr. Plotnick Dr. Plotnick sitting on the Precambrian banded iron formations in Minnesota.


Dr. Plotnick Dr. Plotnick at his cave site in Morris, Illinois.


Dr. Plotnick Dr. Plotnick showing children fossils in Indiana limestone used as retaining walls at the Lake Michigan shore in Chicago.

Dr. Roy E. Plotnick


Employer: University of Illinois at Chicago

NFD Kid's Page Interview...

Please describe the types of work you do in paleontology.

I do many different things as a paleontologist (which is one of things that make it fun). I teach paleontology and courses about environmental change and the evolution of the Earth. I do some field collecting (in Illinois) and some work in the laboratory. I am very interested in how mathematics can be used in studying fossils and evolution. But most of my work in the laboratory involves what I call "experimental paleontology." I have done experiments on how organisms decay and become fossils (and yes, it smells bad). I also do experiments on how ancient organisms ate, swam, and stayed in place on the seafloor.

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

I went to 3 schools; I went to college at Columbia University, and then studied at the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago, where I received my PhD. I studied eurypterids, which are on this year's National Fossil Day logo. Two of my favorite classes were Stratigraphy, which taught me how we can tell time and environment with ancient rocks, and Marine Invertebrate Zoology, where I looked at the living relatives of many of the things we find as fossils.

Briefly describe an experience that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist.

I read an article in Natural History magazine about trilobites, which led to me getting a job at the American Museum of Natural History, where I got to study trilobites!

What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?

I discovered a 310 million year old cave that was filled with fossil plants and scorpions. This is one of the best preserved ancient caves in the world and had many wonderfully preserved fossils.

Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?

Paleontology is more than dinosaurs! Nearly all fossils are of other living things, like clams, snails, corals, and plants. They tell us of the evolution of life on this 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  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: July 6, 2013