FOSSIL Project Updates Spring 2016

by Bruce MacFadden & Eleanor Gardner

We have been working with the Dry Dredgers (and, in particular Jack Kallmeyer), Cincinnati Museum Center, and Paleontological Society to plan the 2016 Cincinnati Mini Conference to be held on June 3 – 5, with an optional trip to Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky on June 2. We are pleased to announce that the Paleontological Society has become a meeting sponsor. They will present a town hall-style discussion about amateurs and the PS. Thanks to support from the PS, the FOSSIL project will provide travel scholarships to the meeting for five students and five K-12 teachers interested in paleontology, see

We continue to work with partner, AtmosphereApps, to improve the myFOSSIL community website, This includes a photo gallery and upgrades to navigation. The web site is growing slowly but steadily in the right direction. We now have more than 160 members, with more joining every week. We are also pleased to announce that the Birmingham Paleontological Society has officially joined the FOSSIL network.

Kent Crippen represented FOSSIL at the 2016 NSF (National Science Foundation) meeting for all projects funded in the AISL (Advancing Informal STEM Learning program) with a poster about the FOSSIL project. Sessions at the meeting included the latest research on learning in informal settings, as well as strategies for supporting citizen science and best practices for diversifying participation through outreach. The research by the FOSSIL project on using social media and activities like the paleoblitz and mini-conferences to support our growing community was well received and generated much interest among meeting participants.

Ronny Leder released a new tutorial on myFOSSIL (digitizing your collection). Read more here.

FOSSIL sponsored a talk by paleobotanist Sarah Allen of FLMNH at the February meeting of the Florida Fossil Hunters club.  Sarah gave a presentation on her work on Hell Creek plant fossils at the Blue Rim site in Wyoming.  The club members reported that Sarah was a wonderful speaker and they highly encourage everybody to check out her website to learn more:

On March 12, Victor Perez and Betty Dunckel participated in the Can You Dig It? Program at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Presented by the University of Florida Department of Geological Sciences and Florida Museum in collaboration with the Gainesville Gem and Mineral Society, this annual event promotes the science of geology and paleontology. Over 2100 visitors of all ages participated in the program. This year the FOSSIL project partnered with the Florida Museum’s Vertebrate Paleontology range to create a fossil identification game. The game engaged visitors in identifying fragmentary fossils by matching them with the complete specimens we had on display. This game was especially popular because we let the visitors keep the fossil fragment after they’d successfully identified it.

Victor Perez helping young friends ID fossils at Can You Dig It? Photo © Kristen Grace
Victor Perez helping young friends ID fossils at Can You Dig It? Photo © Kristen Grace

Also on March 12, but in Watsonville, California, Bruce was involved in a local fossil display table at the Santa Cruz County Science and Engineering Fair. The table was a partnership with the nearby Seacliff Cliff State Beach (Christina Cecchettini) and Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History (Felicia Van Stolk), and we also were fortunate to have Jeanette Pirlo, a UCSC undergraduate student, helping with the exhibit and interacting with the public. We displayed vertebrate and invertebrate fossils collected from the local beaches and environs and discussed these with the families that attended the fair. Over the four hours we reached a few hundred individuals as they stopped by to view and discuss the fossils.

Christina Cecchettini, Bruce MacFadden, Felicia Van Stolk, and Jeanette Pirlo at the Santa Cruz County Science and Engineering Fair

March 18 – 20, 13 members from fossil clubs across the south participated in our first PaleoBlitz organized by Victor Perez and Ronny Leder. Blitz participants spend two days cataloging specimens at the Florida Museum of Natural History, visiting Gordon Hubbell’s collection, and collecting at a private creek site in Florida. Read more.

Some of the Blitz participants-Paul Fazzina, Dave Hanes, Julie Niederkorn, Teal Joyce Drakeford, Sue Coller. Photo © Ronny Leder
Some of the Blitz participants-Paul Fazzina, Dave Hanes, Julie Niederkorn, Teal Joyce Drakeford, Sue Coller. Photo © Ronny Leder

Photo © Lisa Lundgren
Shark teeth from the Hubbell Collection. Photo © Lisa Lundgren

Kathy Young came ultra-prepared with a chair and screen with built in handles. Photo © Jeff Gage
Kathy Young came ultra-prepared with a chair and screen with built in handles. Photo © Jeff Gage

On March 31-April 1, we participated in the GSA (Geological Society of America) Southeastern Section Meeting held in Columbia, South Carolina. The FOSSIL project hosted a theme session on “Synergistic Paleontology” designed to promote collaborations between amateurs and professionals as well as highlight the contributions of amateurs. Eighteen talks and six posters were presented in this symposium, with a mix of about 30 to 45 students, amateurs, and professionals in the audience, many of whom had not previously heard about the FOSSIL project. Interestingly, more than half of the presentations were made by amateurs.On the second day many of us attended another symposium describing new research advances about fossil vertebrates in the SE U.S. There was lots of time for informal discussion after the talks, as well as during the posters and related social events. We thank all of the folks in attendance for their participation and hope that we can sustain this level of activity and interest at future GSA meetings (also see below).

Paul Roth
Paul Roth. Photo Photo © Eleanor Gardner

Cindy Lockner and Bonnie Cronin
Cindy Lockner and Bonnie Cronin. Photo © Eleanor Gardner

George Powell, Jr.
George Powell, Jr. Photo © Eleanor Gardner

List of upcoming events and contact information:

TBA—The FOSSIL project team plans to launch a webinar series of topics of interest to amateur and professional paleontologists. Webinars are on-line videoconferences typically presenting a topic by a leader and with real time participation from participants. There will be no charge to attend the seminars and you can pick and choose which ones you want to attend. We will distribute an e-survey soon to gather community input and ideas.

TBA –A fossil preparation-focused PaleoBlitz is being planned for later this year. The first PaleoBlitz received a very positive response (and many applications), so we’ve decided to offer another one. Stay tuned for more information!

June 3 – 5, Cincinnati Mini-conference, see above.

September 23, Denver, CO, FOSSIL-sponsored short course to be held prior to the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting.

The FOSSIL Project plans to offer a half-day short course called “Facilitating effective STEM learning and public engagement in paleontology” prior to national GSA 2016.  This short course is intended for professionals (including graduate students), amateurs, and K-12 teachers.  We will explore best practices for engaging both formal and informal STEM learners with paleontological data.  Topics to be covered include: (1) contributing to and benefiting from digitization efforts of fossil collections; (2) incorporating fossils into the design of curricula that satisfy the Next Generation Science Standards; (3) fostering engagement and learning by amateurs; and (4) using social media to mobilize the community.  Laptops are required and digital cameras are recommended.  Contact [email protected] for more details as they come together. Please also see the GSA 2016 website:

March 19 – 21, 2017, GSA sectional meeting (combined northeast and north-central) in Pittsburgh, PA. Based on the success of the 2016 GSA Southeastern Section Meeting, we are considering hosting another FOSSIL symposium focused on amateur and professional collaborations. Although anyone interested is welcome, we are hoping to reach out and engage our FOSSIL partners in this region. Preliminary information at