Sally Walker is a professor of paleontology at the University of Georgia. A Paleontologist is someone who studies the past, with the help of fossils.
Fossils are the shells, bones or imprints of creatures that lived long ago which have, over long periods of time, been preserved in sediments and then usually turned into stone. Some creatures also can be preserved as fossils in tree sap, like insects in amber, or preserved in ice, like ancient mammoths found in the ice of the Arctic! Dinosaur skeletons are fossils and so are remains of plants, shells and other living things which appear in relief on rocks, like snapshots from another time. Paleontologists, using fossils, learn about the environment and the climate of the past, which gives us clues about the present. For example, Sally is interested in why trilobites, crab-like creatures which were found in oceans all over the world millions of years ago, went extinct. Perhaps it could give us clues as to how climate change may affect the lives of creatures which inhabit today's oceans.
A resource for fossil collectors in and around the mid-Atlantic region. Including virtual tours of fossil sites, and fossil identification.
USGS: Ask a Geologist
The US Geological Survey Ask-A-Geologist project, for asking earth science questions.
Cornell University– Fossil Finders
Where to find fossils. Of particular interest to NY residents, but useful for other states, too.
The Paleontology Portal
Resources for K-12 teachers and students.
Pathways to Science
NSF-Institute for Broadening Participation provides opportunities nationwide showcasing workshops, internships, and other projects that K-12 and college students can try for.
Dr. Walker, do you have a hobby?
Yes, I like to do art work, such as fabric art (felting), knitting, crocheting; I also like photography; in the past I did oil and acrylic painting (abstract paintings), and pen and ink illustrations. Art helps train your eye to see the world around you in different ways; it helps to sharpen your powers of observation; and also keeps your mind flexible to think about science from a different perspective.
Where can you find fossils?
I collect fossils for research and teaching. I like to collect fossils, with research permits or where it is permitted to collect fossils, in the southeastern United States, Bahamas, and Antarctica. Additionally, Check with your local library resource person; check with your local high school geology teacher; check with local college or university in your area that has a geology department.
Can you recommend any cool travel destinations for future Paleontologists?
There are lot of great places to hunt for fossils in America:
- Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada.
- Dinosaur National Monument in Utah
- Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Nebraska.
- Cambrian to Permian fossil displays at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, and walk through a cave that was an ancient Permian fossil reef!
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas and New Mexico (associated with the reef that makes up Carlsbad Caverns) has many fossils along a hike from deep sea to shallow sea along the Permian reef!
- Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming. Incredible Eocene fish, sharks, palm leaves, turtles, bats, and freshwater invertebrates with great hiking and outreach activities.
- Fossil Park in Ohio
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado has amazing fossilized trees!
- Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon.
- Where Fossils Rock! Has great resources for finding fossils in your area.
What are some career opportunities for Paleontologists?
There are many career opportunities, including:
- Paleoclimatologists who use fossils to determine past ocean and atmospheric temperatures, ancient ocean currents;
- Paleogeochemists who use fossils to reconstruct ancient environments; science writers who write education videos, books, make video games using fossils and recreating ancient landscapes or marine habitats of the past;
- Taphonomists who use fossils to understand how the past is a key to the present by looking at marine or terrestrial environments before humans populated the Earth;
- Conservational Paleobiologists who use fossil techniques to understand current issues in conservational biology for preserving Earth's habitats;
- Paleobiologists who study evolution and extinction of fossil creatures through time;
- Micropaleontologists who use tiny fossils, known as ostracodes and foraminifera (among other creatures), to reconstruct ancient sea levels and determine sea level changes though time;
- Paleontologists can also be Petroleum Geologists, helping remediate oil well sites or searching for petroleum (oil) resources;
- Paleontologists can also work with NASA, to explore the possibility of life on other planets by understanding how organisms are fossilized on Earth;
- Paleontologists can also be Teachers at all levels, from elementary school to college, or be independently employed as a writer or in the fossil industry or as educational specialists associated with museums.
Things to try:
- Many local nature centers have paleontological outreach activities and fossil displays.
- Look for your local fossil festival, or start one! National Fossil Day is usually Oct. 15!
- Outdoor skills, like hiking, camping and geocaching provide excellent skills for budding paleontologists.
Things to try:
- Take an art class. Skills such as drawing, painting and sculpting are also very important for building observation skills, they could even lead to jobs in PaleoArt!
Things to try:
- See if your town has a local geology club, such as gem and mineral clubs.
- Talk to your science teacher about starting your own paleontology club!
- Volunteer at your local city or county museum to help put together fossil displays or help curate fossils!
- Computer skills, mathematical skills, and even animation are all very important for paleontological jobs.
Web Sites to Visit:
Internships in Paleontology:
- The Geological Society of America
- The American Museum of Natural History
- The Paleontological Research Institute
- The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, South Dakota
- The Wyoming Dinosaur Center
- Contact your local natural history museum and ask to speak to the paleontologist or geologist and ask about museum internships, summer camps, and other activities that you can do!
- Local, state and national parks also have internships or take volunteers to help with their paleontological exhibits and fossil collections; contact the one in your area to find out what is available.
Classes to take:
- Most paleontologists majored in either geology or earth science.
- Classes in geology, biology, genetics, chemistry , and geochemistry are also very important, depending on your interests.