The mission of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Paleontology Department is to collect, research, and care for the fossilized remains of past life and promote the understanding of extinct and modern life on Earth. The collection is vast and varied; you’ll find tiny marine fossils, and you’ll find one of the world’s only complete mounted Triceratops specimens. The Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology is the person who is tasked with stewarding, studying, and adding to that collection – and sharing the knowledge that it imparts with the world.
It is with great excitement that we announce that the Science Museum will welcome Dr. Alex Hastings in early October to assume the role of Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology. Hastings will fill the role previously occupied by Bruce Erickson, who retired in 2017 after a remarkable 58 year tenure at the Science Museum.
Currently the assistant curator of paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Hastings has worked on a wide variety of fossil projects, ranging from dinosaurs to insects. His research interests and interpretation achievements, in addition to his unique ability to translate complex science topics for non-science audiences, make him the perfect fit for the position.
“I am so pleased to introduce Dr. Alex Hastings as the Science Museum’s new paleontology curator,” says Dr. Laurie Fink, vice president of Science at the Science Museum of Minnesota. “Our collection of prehistoric specimens, which is rich in crocodyliform reptiles, is a great match with his research interests, and I’m excited by the possibilities that promises. But most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing how Alex translates his research and the treasure trove of information within our collection for the people our museum serves. He has a natural rapport with people. When he presented his research at the museum last spring, his energy and passion for his work really stood out to us, and I’m eager to see him work with visitors to share his knowledge in new and innovative ways.”
Hastings did his Ph.D. work at the University of Florida, focusing his research on fossil crocodiles from South America. During his graduate career, he named five new species of fossil crocodile and helped discover the world’s largest snake, the extinct Titanoboa from about 60 million years ago. Following his Ph.D., he taught at Georgia Southern University and completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany, where he helped develop and co-wrote the bilingual companion book for the Gaining Ground exhibition, which was about the horse-hunting crocodiles and giant birds of prehistoric Germany. Hastings also contributed to the Smithsonian’s Titanoboa: Monster Snake traveling exhibition.
Hastings did his undergraduate work at Penn State University, where he studied Geological Sciences. He is a member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and the Geological Society of America.
“I am very excited to be coming to the Science Museum of Minnesota,” says Hastings. “The museum's collection has an incredible array of ancient animals, ranging from giant dinosaurs to tiny crocodiles. There are so many different directions the research can go, and I can't wait to hit the ground running.”
Hastings is passionate about the importance of science knowledge getting out of the labs and in front of the community. “My view of science is that community outreach is a necessary component of what we do,” he says, “and the Science Museum has many different avenues to interact with the public and share its amazing resources. Paleontology has been my life's passion and I can't wait to share that love of ancient life with the people the Science Museum serves.”
The Science Museum will host welcome events for Dr. Hastings during his first few weeks on the job, and he will appear at the museum’s Fossil Day festivities on Saturday, October 13. More detail about your chance to meet him will be announced in the coming weeks. In the meantime, follow him on Twitter!