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Convo Digs Up Student Interest

On March 6, Phelps Stokes was packed wall to wall as Berea College hosted acclaimed paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno, who spoke about his adventures in the field, which included everything from major fossil finds in the Sahara to being featured in a National Geographic documentary.

Dr. Sereno accompanied his talk with an informative slideshow.

Dr. Sereno grew up in Naperville, a suburb in Chicago, and studied art and biology as an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. However, he became very interested in ancient art and cave paintings, which eventually led his way into the area of paleontology, a field that he saw as “an irresistible combination of travel, adventure, art, biology and geology.”

Now working at the University of Chicago, Dr. Sereno has accumulated a very impressive amount of work that has gone a long way in making him one of the most renowned in his field. During his speech and slideshow, Sereno showed an amusing experiment of making a flexible raptor skull that could bend on the edge of a table. The expiriment was inspired by the famous painting "The Persistence of Memory" by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí.

The bulk of his work, however, has come from expeditions across the globe, including India, Africa and many others. In his excursion into the Sahara, Sereno and his large, student-based team ventured into the sandy wilderness, which found the group fighting for their lives just as much as they attempted to unearth dinosaur fossils. That being said, the trip was a huge success, resulting in some of the best finds anyone in the world has found. These discoveries even went a long way to classifying new creatures that no one could have dreamed of. The best example of these new creatures would be the “Supercroc,” which Sereno’s team found remnants of in Africa. The name is no understatement, as Sereno illustrated by playing clips from a National Geographic documentary featuring him and his discoveries. The “Supercroc” is seen to be a gigantic version of what normal crocodiles are today, a version that was over forty feet long when alive during the dinosaur age. Also giving the audience a good scare was a segment during which Sereno and a couple other scientists went into the wild to measure a real crocodile. The film team jumped on top of the crocodile and temporarily blinded it to get the animal to sit still. Once done measuring, they took off the sheet and the crocodile quickly opened its mouth and ran for cover, causing the whole of Phelps Stokes to gasp, and a few to scream and subsequently laugh.

Far from being the only life endangering experience Sereno has experienced in his work, he also described the terror he felt having to speed his vehicle across the Sahara just to make it throuh the desert. But other finds that include parts of such creatures as the “Spinosaurus” and “Rajasaurs” found in India make these risks all the more worth taking. Another interesting bit of information came as Sereno talked about his general disdain for the poor job done in recreating the “Spinosaurus” in Jurassic Park III, resulting in a large laugh from the students who had undoubtedly seen the film.

Not only is he one of National Geographic’s Explorers-in-Residence, Sereno is also the president and co-founder of Project Exploration, which is a nonprofit outreach organization that sets out to recreating the process of scientific discovery and unique education opportunities for the public—particularly for city children and girls. Even though Sereno has already accumulated a career’s amount of work in less than twenty years, he has no plan on stopping, and is taking everyone along for the ride.

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