Samantha Interviews Andrew Farke, Paleontologist at the Raymond M. Alf Museum

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
By Samantha

In January, eight Extreme Biology students will travel to Science Online 2011, an international conference where scientists, educators, journalists, and students come together to discuss the way the web is changing science and science education. As part of their preparation, the students have conducted interviews with conference organizers, presenters, and participants. This is the fourth in the 2011 series.

Ever since I was young I’ve found paleontology to be very interesting.   Recently, I wrote a blog post about the two new species of dinosaurs that were just discovered.  When I saw that Dr. Andrew Farke, a paleontologist at the Raymond M. Alf Museum, was coming to Science Online, I decided to contact him for an interview.

Dr. Farke blogs at The Open Source Paleontologist and The Open Dinosaur Project.

Andrew Farke at a dig site in Madagascar

Why are you attending this Science Online conference?

I’m very interested in the role that the Internet plays in science – from blogs to peer-reviewed journals to databases and more. ScienceOnline is a great chance to meet many of the movers and shakers in this realm, and to compare notes about doing science in the digital age. Reading and commenting on blogs is great, but there is just something intangible about meeting in person!

How long have you been studying paleontology, and what inspired you to become a paleontologist?

I first got interested in paleontology when I was four years old. When we were on a family vacation, my parents took me to Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota. The giant concrete statues there, of animals like Triceratops and Apatosaurus, really grabbed my attention and never let go. So, you could say that I’ve been studying paleontology ever since! Professionally, I published my first paper when I was 16 (a short write-up of a science fair project), and I’ve been pretty active in the field to this day.

Is this your first Science Online Conference or have you attended previous ones?

I first attended last year, and enjoyed it so much that I decided to come back.

Andrew Farke on a camel in Gansu Province, China

Have you ever made a significant discovery in the field of paleontology?

I suppose it depends on what you mean by significant. . .the work of which I’m most proud has been that unraveling the function of the horns in Triceratops and related animals. In addition to many other functions, it looks like they were also using the horns for combat between members of the same species. I’ve also been fortunate to help name a few new species of dinosaurs – including Kosmoceratops, Utahceratops, and Coahuilaceratops, which were named earlier this year (in collaboration with my colleagues Scott Sampson, Mark Loewen, Cathy Forster, and others). There are a few more new animals in the pipeline – hopefully they’ll be officially named next year.

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