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LIVE FROM MARS: lfm
Photo taken by Michael Milstein, Billings Gazette
Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, California
I received a Ph.D. in Paleontology from the University of California at Davis in 1978.
Shortly after finishing my degree, I was employed as museum scientist by the Geology
Department at Davis. My job was to assemble collections of minerals, rocks and fossils to
help teach courses in geology and paleontology and to support the research being carried
out by the faculty. During my time at Davis, I learned a lot about how to classify natural
materials and also a lot about how nature is organized. While a museum scientist, I also
taught courses in geology and paleontology. My favorite course was a field course in
marine paleoecology (study of the ecology of fossil life). I taught this course at the
university's marine station at Bodega Bay, in northern California. The course lasted six
weeks and my students were able to go out to the field almost everyday and observe and
carry out experiments on living marine communities. We tried to understand not only
living creatures, but how they become fossilized. In the second half of the course we
visited many different places in California where we could study the fossil record of
marine life and reconstruct how the ancient marine species lived and interacted.
After five years as museum scientist I decided to try another career and left Davis to
join Exxon as a petroleum geologist. My job with Exxon was to find oil. I focused my
search on the offshore marine areas of southern California. Using many different methods
that enable geologists to visualize the study of rocks underground, I was able to
determine the most likely places to drill for oil and gas. It was exciting and during my
five-year stay with Exxon I found between five and 10-million barrels of oil.
After leaving the petroleum industry I returned to academics. Although I enjoyed
finding oil, I really missed teaching. I was able to land a job teaching Oceanography,
Earth Science and Paleontology at UCLA in southern California. I was there for five years
and during that time also developed my present interests in the very early history of
life and the solar system. This brought me to NASA in 1991 on a research fellowship from
the National Research Council. The project I came to NASA to do focused on developing
methods to better interpret the fossil record of very small microorganisms. It was quite
a change from my early years as a paleontologist where I focused on larger organisms with
hard skeletons of bone or shell. Now I had to worry about how very small organisms with
no skeletons could become fossils.