FOSSIL Project Updates Summer 2018

By Sadie Mills, FOSSIL Project Coordinator

FOSSIL Team Changes

In April, FOSSIL Co-Principal Investigator Betty Dunckel retired from her role as Director of the Center for Science Learning at the Florida Museum. As a founding member of the FOSSIL Project team, Betty helped the project grow from an idea to our current online community of almost 1,000 social paleontologists. We will miss her on the project, but wish her a happy and relaxing retirement!

In May, FOSSIL social media intern Michael Le graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Marketing. During his time with FOSSIL, Michael was responsible for starting and maintaining the project’s Instagram account, which has grown to have over 500 followers. We wish Michael the best as he starts the next chapter of his career!

This summer, two new interns have joined the FOSSIL team:

Mary Jane Hughes is a rising senior at the University of Florida. As one of the FOSSIL Project’s Social Media Interns, Mary Jane enjoys creating engaging content for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram audiences. She uses her design background and creative writing style to craft captivating content with the hope to inspire paleontologists around the globe. As she continues to develop her passion for communication and science, Mary Jane is completing her undergraduate degree in Public Relations with a concentration in Business. From a young age, Jurassic Park became one of her favorite movies because of the exciting nature of understanding the creatures of the past. Her interest in fossils has continued to grow with this internship. After graduation, Mary Jane has the goal of becoming a consultant for government-funded programs with an emphasis on the opioid crisis and to be a force for positive change in society.

Mary Jane Hughes
Samantha Ocon

Samantha (Sam) Ocon helps create content for the FOSSIL Project’s social media accounts while also lending a hand wherever she may be needed. As an aspiring professional paleontologist, FOSSIL’s mission to “bring paleontology to the people” resonates deeply with her desire to work in paleontological outreach. Sam has been following her passion for paleontology since the early age of two – leading her to pursue a B.S. in Geology at the University of Florida. She also plans on a graduate career in paleontology – hopefully working on Cambrian arthropods! Currently, she also assists with research in the micropaleontology division of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s invertebrate paleontology lab.

In August, we will welcome Jennifer Bauer to the team as a postdoctoral associate. Jen recently completed her PhD at the University of Tennessee, where she studied the evolution of blastoids, an extinct group of echinoderms. During her time with FOSSIL, Jen will serve as curator for the myFOSSIL gallery. We look forward to having her expertise and enthusiasm for paleontology outreach on the project!

Citizen Science at Belgrade

In late May, FOSSIL collaborated with the Special Friends of the Aurora Fossil Museum (SFAFM) to host a citizen science dig at the Belgrade Mine in North Carolina. FOSSIL was joined by 10 individuals from around the US, who were selected to participate based on their completion of the FOSSIL Community Survey.

The team at Belgrade

At the mine, participants searched through sediment piles from the Belgrade formation, which had been graciously set aside by the mine manager and staff. The goal was to find rare extinct land mammals from the Belgrade layer, a Miocene deposit from 5- 20 million years ago. After three hours of diligent sifting, participants collected bags of specimens and buckets of matrix for further analysis at the Florida Museum. The research on this material is ongoing, and we’re excited to keep the community updated on what we find. So far, the matrix has revealed an assemblage of marine fishes, including pufferfish, gar, barracuda, and drum fish. A surprising find has been a colubrid snake vertebra, the first of its kind documented at Belgrade! You can see a 3D scan of that specimen, created by Jeanette Pirlo, here:

We’d like to thank Martin Marietta, Mine Manager Doug Fetsko, and the staff of the Belgrade Mine for making this research opportunity possible, and for showing us such wonderful hospitality while at the mine. We also appreciate the efforts of SFAFM president Lee Cone for helping coordinate this citizen science project. To learn about the trip from a participant’s perspective, read Hunter Thurmond’s article about his experience here:

Presentations & Publications 

In June, FOSSIL graduate student Jeanette Pirlo attended the Southwest Florida Fossil Society meeting in Punta Gorda, FL. There, she presented about her work on the Fossils4Teachers! professional development workshop. Jeanette, along with FOSSIL members Bruce MacFadden, Eleanor Gardner, Victor Perez, and Denise Porcello, recently published on this workshop in the May issue of Connected Science Learning. You can read their article here:

Congratulations to FOSSIL team members Lisa Lundgren, Kent Crippen, and Victor Perez, as well as former members Eleanor Gardner and Ronny Maik Leder, for their recent publication in the International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments. Their article, “Mental models and social media personas: a case of amateur palaeontologists,” explores how amateur paleontologists perceive and engage with social media. You can read the abstract here:

Rich Bex and his award winning poster.

FOSSIL graduate student Rich Bex traveled to Limerick, Ireland to participate in the European Conference on Social Media. He presented a poster on the development of the myFOSSIL mobile app, and was awarded Runner Up for Best Poster. Congrats to Rich, and his co-authors Lisa Lundgren and Kent Crippen!






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