Dr. Scott Sampson to lecture at PaleoFest
Eight of the world’s best-known dinosaur hunters and paleontologists will gather at Rockford’s Burpee Museum the weekend of March 3 and 4 to tell tales of dinosaurs and host interactive workshops with families, professionals and dino-lovers of all ages.
These scientists will present, debate and discuss developing new theories about these intriguing creatures. PaleoFest is a full weekend of activities and programs for all ages including Paleo talks, family workshops, and Dinoblast activities as well as a dinner Saturday evening.
This year, Dr. Scott D. Sampson, host of PBS’s Dinosaur Train, will be the keynote speaker at Saturday’s dinner as well as presenting a family talk Sunday in the Rockford Theatre at the Rockford Woman’s Club. A meet-and-greet book signing will immediately follow the presentation Sunday.
Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10 for non-members; free to members. Admission is required to attend PaleoFest. Prices for the lectures are: two-day pass, $70 non-member, $60 member. This includes admission to all lectures on both days but does not include Sunday at the Rockford Theatre or the dinner on Saturday. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the buffet dinner at 6:30 p.m. and the lecture starting at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Sampson will speak about the topic “Dinosaurs of the Lost Continent.”
One-day pass: $35 non-member, $30 member, includes admission to all lectures on either Saturday or Sunday and Museum admission. Individual lectures: $10 non-member, $8 member, includes admission to the selected lecture but not museum admission, which must be purchased. The children’s lecture at Rockford Theatre begins at 1 p.m., Sunday, and is priced at $20 non-member, $15 member.
Dr. Sampson’s background
Dr. Scott Sampson is a Canadian dinosaur paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and educator who serves as research curator at the Utah Museum of Natural History, University of Utah. After receiving his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto in 1993, he spent a year working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, followed by five years as assistant professor of anatomy at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine on Long Island. From 1999-2007, he held a dual position with the Utah Museum of Natural History and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah, serving for the last several years of that time as chief curator and associate professor, respectively.
His research has focused on the ecology and evolution of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs, and he has conducted field work in several countries, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Madagascar, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. His current research efforts are focused on a large-scale project in Grand Staircase-Escalanate National Monument, southern Utah, which has yielded abundant remains of previously unknown dinosaurs.
In 2007, Sampson moved to the San Francisco Bay area of California, where he lives with his family. He is now pursuing a range of new projects focused on education. He was the primary consultant and on-air host of the four-part Discovery Channel series Dinosaur Planet. Appearing as “Dr. Scott the Paleontologist,” he is working for the PBS children’s series, Dinosaur Train, produced by the Jim Henson Company. He recently completed a book, Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life (University of California Press, 2009), the first comprehensive review of dinosaur paleontology for a general audience in more than two decades. Sampson is now at work on another general audience book, this one addressing the Epic of Evolution, the grand saga of cosmos, life and culture that extends to the present day.
Interview with Dr. Sampson
By Copy Editor Susan Johnson
TRRT: When did you decide to specialize in the field of paleontology? In college or before that?
Dr. Sampson: About the age of 5. As a kid who never grew up in some ways, paleontology was one of the first words I learned how to spell. I started out big. I realized early on that I could become a professor of paleontology. It was something that I aspired to at a young age, but I also thought about doing other things later on. I found myself moving back to paleontology and dinosaurs, but I didn’t make it final until I was actually in grad school.
TRRT: How did your time at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine fit in with your work in paleontology?
Dr. Sampson: A lot of people think it’s odd to teach in a medical school and be a paleontologist, but they go together very well. For a lot of paleontologists, their day job is human anatomist. Once you know anything about one kind of backboned animal, you understand a lot about all of them — dinosaurs and many other kinds… We are all in some respects trained as anatomists. By learning about human anatomy, I actually learned a lot about dinosaurs. My time at the College of Osteopathic Medicine made me a different kind of paleontologist because I understood all the soft textures like skin, blood vessels, muscles, how these were attached to bones. Humans are as good a model to learn about as any creature.
TRRT: What sparked your interest in the fossils in Madagascar?
Dr. Sampson: I’ve long been interested in Africa, and an opportunity came up to combine a trip to Africa with a trip to Madagascar, so I jumped at that opportunity. I ended up spending five seasons’ work in Madagascar. It’s a wonderful place. Every fossilized animal we found is new to science — no one had ever seen it before. We found some carnivores and herbivores, a whole range of weird and wonderful creatures to give us a sense of what the island looked like in the Age of Dinosaurs.
TRRT: How did you get into the television projects?
Dr. Sampson: I think it’s just because I worked on dinosaurs. If I worked on fossil fish, people probably wouldn’t be so interested. But people are fascinated by dinosaurs; they are probably the most popular area of science. I had done some cameos in a dinosaur documentary. I was asked to host the Discovery Channel series Dinosaur Planet, and more recently, I became the series adviser and on-air host of Dinosaur Train [which] has exploded in popularity. Over 9 million households a month in the United States are watching it.
TRRT: How long did it take to complete your work on the Dinosaur Odyssey book?
Dr. Sampson: That was a labor of love — approximately five years. I thought it would be pretty straightforward because I had been teaching a course at the University of Utah, so it would be a matter of just plugging my notes into a book. But it was nothing like that. The process was far more correlated and difficult, but also very rewarding, and the end result is the first review of dinosaur paleontology written by a paleontologist in about a generation.
TRRT: What has been the most challenging aspect of your work so far?
Dr. Sampson: I had to give that a little thought. I think the most challenging thing is convincing people of the importance of dinosaurs and nature more generally. Digging up dinosaurs is not that complicated. Yes, you have to get the money and draw up the papers, but most of my time is spent talking to the general public. We have this crisis where children are not spending enough time outdoors. They are spending seven to 10 hours a day indoors staring at screens. One of the great challenges we have, both for the children and the places we live, is to get kids motivated to get outdoors and start connecting with the natural world. That is easily the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career.
From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue
Print This Article