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Meet a Paleontologist
Jere Lipps prospecting for fossils in the Precambrian rocks of the White-Inyo Mountains, California. ~590 million years old.
Jere Lipps (right) and Robert Hessler inspecting a fossil sponge preserved in glacial sediment from the bottom of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, dating at 4000 years old.
Jere Lipps diving in Jellyfish Lake, Palau, while studying how the soft-bodied (anemones and jellies) animals live and preserve. 1994.
Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley
Director of the John D. Cooper Archaeology and Paleontology Center, Santa Ana, California
NFD Kid's Page Interview...
What is your job, and what do you study?
In the UC system, I did research and taught on geology, marine biology, paleontology, and astrobiology. These disciplines come together to provide an understanding of the biology of ancient organisms and ecosystems on Earth and other planets. At the Cooper Center, we prepare, curate, educate (K through Post-doctoral students), and exhibit/outreach to the public in general using our fossils and artifacts to understand the history of life in Southern California from 180 million years ago to the present. And yes, we do have dinosaurs.
What are you working on now?
1. Evolution and extinction of reefs through time. 2. Taphonomy and evolution of whales and other marine mammals. 3. Biota of the marine lakes of Palau.
Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?
I did a BA (then this was the real major and a BS was less intensive) and a PhD at UCLA. All of my geology classes were really great, especially field geology and mapping, sedimentary geology, and structural geology, and I loved certain zoology classes like invertebrate zoology, protozoology, evolution, etc.
Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?
That happened when I was 7 or 8, and read a comic book showing Donald Duck's nephews running through a museum filled with dinosaurs. They ran by a door labeled "Paleontologist" (no real connection to the story), and that did it for me. I wanted an office among all those bones. I started telling everyone that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. Later in the 6th grade, I did a field trip with a college mineralogy class and saw geologists working. That was the cream on top of it all. I always wanted to be a geologist/paleontologist/marine biologist, and my parents encouraged it with camping vacations and trips into the mountains, deserts and national parks (Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Mojave Desert were incredible places that I always wanted to know more about—and still do).
What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?
Lots of them, but usually associated with some exciting find, such as a new locality on the Channel Islands off Southern California of Pleistocene marine invertebrates, or of the skull of a Pachycephalosaur in Montana just lying in a gully staring at me coming down the path, of the discovery of a bed of rhodoliths in a fossil deposit, or figuring out how so many whales, sharks and other animals could be deposited in the famous bonebed at Sharktooth Hill near Bakersfield, CA.
Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?
Learn to write well and to speak publicly.Without clarity and conciseness in communication, your science will mean nothing.And all employers want such people.Then take lots of geology (after all fossils occur in rocks and you need to understand what they tell you) and biology (they were alive once and all those ecologic and physiologic principles will help you to understand the fossils meaningfully). Get in the field as often as you can to prospect and collect fossils.While there, pay attention to all the little details as well as the bigger picture in the rocks and fossils.Most often people start in the reverse order here.