Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology

Department
Paleontology
Division
Science

The Science Museum of Minnesota seeks a paleontologist for the Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology, the department director and curator, for the Paleontology Department in our Science Division, to grow its scholarship, to curate and expand its fossil collections, and to help inspire public understanding of, and involvement in, science. The museum is growing and spans the scientific fields of anthropology, biology, paleontology and watershed research. The Science Museum strives to create an inclusive, equity-based institution that empowers people to change the world through science. Museum scientists work with exhibit and program developers to engage with the public through educational programming and exhibits. They work with other museum scientists and a large, highly-trained volunteer corps. The museum has strong local public support with state of the art research and collections facilities.

The ideal candidate’s scholarship will involve field-based paleontological research on fossil vertebrates. Successful candidates will have a proven research program and an established record of accomplishment of publication and funding; will be a phenomenal public speaker and will regularly engage the public and media. The Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology will lead the paleontology program as the Paleontology Department Director and Curator. As Director, this position will manage and monitor department operations to provide the vision and leadership to advance the goals of the division and the museum.

Science Museum of Minnesota

The Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) is a science-technology center with innovative exhibits that emphasize hands-on learning. It also has a longstanding tradition as a natural history museum with scientific research, collections, and interpretive exhibits. SMM is the most popular indoor cultural attraction in Minnesota, the foremost provider of informal science education in the region, and is nationally recognized for its leadership in the field for developing science exhibitions, inventive programs, and educational resources.

SMM’s core audiences are family groups with school-age children, K-12 field trip visitors, and adults attending without children. In addition to its permanent and temporary exhibits, the museum includes a giant screen Omnitheater. It also offers a wide variety of on- and off-site education programs for children, families, and adults, including school and community outreach programs, summer camps and classes, and computer education programs.

In FY 2017, more than 800,000 people visited the museum or took part in its off-site programs. An additional three million people saw traveling exhibitions and giant screen films produced or co-produced by SMM at institutions nationwide. As of July 1, 2017, the museum has 31,547 member households.

The museum is an important resource for classroom STEM learning – statewide and, increasingly, regionally and nationally. During the 2016–2017 school year, field trips, outreach programs, and teacher professional development programs reached students and educators in every one of Minnesota’s 87 counties for the third consecutive year.

Extensively networked, SMM collaborates with educational, cultural, civic, and community-based institutions locally, regionally, and nationally. In FY 2016, the museum worked with or provided programming for more than 300 Twin Cities cultural, educational, and human service organizations. Also, SMM staff worked with 150 organizations in greater Minnesota; with more than 100 research and educational institutions in 35 states; and with more than 200 museums in all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.

In 2017, the museum adopted a new Strategic Plan: 2020 and Beyond:

Mission:
Turn on the science: Inspire learning. Inform policy. Improve lives.

Vision:
We envision a world in which all people have the power to use science to make lives better.

Our goals are to:

  • Transform the visitor place
  • Amplify impact beyond our walls
  • Activate stakeholders to advance the mission

 

The Science Division

The museum’s Science Division consists of both research and collections. It is a growing division in a museum that increasingly values the research of its own scientists. As we pursue our strategic goal to Amplify Impact Beyond our Walls, we will expand and share science research initiatives that align with museum assets and program plans, as well as expand thematic approaches to scientific research and learning through projects such as Water Planet, RACE: Are We So Different?, and other priority causes.

The purpose of the division is to create and communicate new knowledge. The creation of this knowledge lends scientific credibility to the museum, which is central to connecting to stakeholders, influencing science policy, and establishing a foundation for the museum’s identity. Our scientists develop and actively participate in science research programs that align with museum programs, support engaging audience experiences that highlight how science is relevant to their lives, and contribute to the larger scientific enterprise.

The Science Division has 14 full-time members, 14 part-time members and numerous volunteers in six different departments: Anthropology (both archaeology and ethnology), Biology, Collections, Global Change Initiatives, Paleontology, and Watershed Research.

The Paleontology Department

SMM established the Paleontology Department in 1959 with the hiring of Curator Bruce Erickson. Fifty-eight years later, Erickson retired from his position as the Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology. The paleontology collection, curated by Erickson, is a rare example of an excellent collection created primarily by one curator over an extended and prolific tenure. For decades of Erickson’s career, he led annual field expeditions in the western United States and Canada. He collected material from Hell Creek (most notably a Triceratops), Wannagan Creek (a Paleocene post-extinction freshwater fauna), Poison Creek (primarily sauropods) and other sites.

SMM is a leading repository of fossil specimens in the Upper Midwest. The primary geographic emphasis of the collection is North America, although fossil specimens from around the world are also part of the collection. This collection includes a diverse array of invertebrate, vertebrate, plant, and trace fossils that record the history of life on earth. It represents regional and global vertebrate collections, with primary emphasis on dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, and fish. Collections of fossils from the Paleocene Wannagan Creek Quarry, the Jurassic Poison Creek Quarry, the Oligocene White River Formation, the Cretaceous Judith River Formation, and the Eocene Green River Formation demonstrate the quality of material housed at the Science Museum.

Specimens span the history of life on Earth, with a large collection of local Paleozoic invertebrate fossils, Mesozoic faunas (especially Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs), and Paleocene reptiles. Significantly, the SMM collection includes 139 type specimens and over 350 specimens figured in publications. The collection contributes to discoveries about life on this planet and has the potential to help answer questions of global significance. Since the museum’s founding, its public spaces have featured objects from the collection.

Paleocene Wannagan Creek Quarry

The Science Museum of Minnesota’s Wannagan Creek Expeditions took place from 1970 to 1996. The Wannagan Creek Quarry was discovered in the Williston Basin of North Dakota and preserves a post K-Pg recovery fauna that includes crocodilians, champsosaurs, fish, turtles, mammals, birds, plants, and trace fossils. This long-term research project brought in 1445 field jackets that resulted in over 8,000 specimens, including 12 type specimens. Among the specimens are the holotypes of, Borealosuchus (Leidyosuchus) formidabilis and Wannaganosuchus. The Wannagan Creek Quarry fauna is a hallmark of SMM’s Paleontology collection (e.g., Erickson, 1982, 1985; 1987, 2005). Specimensare on display in the museum’s Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery, and they were the focus of an SMM-created a traveling exhibition entitled When Crocodiles Ruled.

“The SMM holds a number of particularly significant collections spanning Mesozoic and Cenozoic time. By far, the most extensive and most special of these collections are those from the Wannagan Creek Quarry. SMM field crews worked this locality in North Dakota for many years in the 1970s and 1980s, which amassed an astounding collection of one of the first ‘post-K-Pg extinction’ recovery assemblages. Bruce’s teams did an excellent job of recording, mapping, collecting, preparing, and curating those fossils, but they barely scratched the surface of this significant collection. The collection includes mammals, birds, several crocodyliforms, turtles, fish galore, an amazing coprolite collection, pollen, plants, and abundant trace fossils, over the last 40 years, few of these organisms have received a detailed treatment in the peer reviewed literature! The taphonomic and sedimentological data collected in the field by Bruce and his teams are housed at the SMM, have only been partially studied. In reality, the Wannagan Creek collection is probably among the most important collections in existence for developing an understanding of ecosystem recovery after the last major mass extinction, but at present it is inaccessible to outside researchers who are not already ‘in the know’ about the collection.”

—Kristi Curry Rogers, PhD
Associate Professor
Macalester College

Hell Creek Formation

SMM’s Hell Creek expedition occurred from 1960 to1964 and was led by Bruce Erickson. Here, the team found well-preserved Triceratops remains. A composite of two individuals has been on display in the museum’s paleontology gallery since the 1960s.

Jurassic Poison Creek Quarry

From 1976 to 1990, Bruce Erickson collected dinosaur fossils from the Poison Creek Quarry in the Jurassic of Wyoming. The site was previously explored and surficially collected by biologist Lyle Bradley. The expedition yielded many dinosaur remains, including skeletons of Diplodocus (on display at SMM), Haplocanthosaurus, and Camptosaurus (on display at SMM). Also, more isolated elements of these and other dinosaurs are part of the collection. It includes a complete juvenile Diplodocus skull as well as partial skulls of Camarasaurus and Allosaurus. Of special importance are two partial skeletons of Haplocanthosaurus. This collection includes over 500 bones of Jurassic saurischian dinosaurs and is an important corollary of Poison Creek dinosaur collections held by other museums.

Ichnofossil Collection

The museum has a collection of 275 Coconino Sandstone plates collected by the Potomac Museum Group between 1980 and 2006. These sandstone plates of traces constitute evidence of Permian life as biogenic structures as well as environmental events.

Oligocene White River Formation

A gift from Dr. Ray E. Lemley, the SMM’s Oligocene Vertebrates collection includes more than 300 specimens from the Oligocene White River Formation of South Dakota and Nebraska. This collection of Oligocene mammals includes rodents, carnivores, pigs, camels, and horses preserved in exquisite detail. It provides an overview of an ecosystem, potentially holding clues to a deep-time environmental change in North America.

Eocene Green River Formation

The museum has a collection of fossil fish from the Green River Formation of Wyoming. These are beautiful fossils, including chondrichthyans and actinopterygians, some of which are still awaiting preparation. A small portion of the collection is on display at the Science Museum, including Amia, Knightia, Diplomystus, and the exquisite stingray Heliobatis.

Invertebrate Fossils

SMM’s collection includes a broad-reaching, significant sample of over 10,000 invertebrate fossils from the upper Midwest.

Paleobotany

Another strong collection at SMM is the Paleobotany Collection. It includes hundreds of fossils from many of the vertebrate localities represented in the SMM’s collection. It includes one of the only records of Late Cretaceous terrestrial environments in the Midwest, and it provides an important window into Cretaceous coastal ecosystems on the eastern shore of the Western Interior Seaway.

Geology Collection

The geology collection at the SMM includes representative rock samples from around the world, including a gem and mineral collection. This collection includes over 10,000 samples of rocks and minerals from North America. The N.H. Winchell collection of over 4,500 rock and mineral specimens, gathered by Minnesota’s first State Geologist and director of the Natural History Survey from 1872-1900, is an important part of the museum’s geology collection. The mineral collection includes beautiful samples that are occasionally highlighted in museum exhibitions.

Type and Figured Specimens

Type and Figured Specimens in SMM’s paleontology collection include 139 types and over 300 specimens figured in scientific papers, monographs, and other peer-reviewed literature (e.g., Erickson 1972, 1981, 1987; Erickson and Pickett 1987; Carlson 1987, Bolt, in press; Boyer, in press).

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