The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


Students in the program are required to do individual research for a senior thesis and field work is encouraged. They get to live their childhood dreams while traveling the world digging up dinosaurs.

Professor Peter Dodson doesn’t want Penn’s paleobiology program “to go the way of the dinosaur.”

As a small program, paleobiology, which focuses on the animals, plants and climate of the Earth before the emergence of humans, faces many challenges.

Some are also concerned that the size of the paleobiology program, which is offered through the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, may render it obsolete. There are only two paleontologists at Penn, Hermann Pfefferkorn and Dodson, and Pfefferkorn is retired from teaching, although still active.

Others are worried that paleobiology, which requires about equal amounts of geology and biology, is an archaic field which does not focus on the future.

Related: Grad student names two new dinosaurs

Additionally, the anonymous endowment which funds student research in the program is set to expire soon. This funding permits undergraduates to accompany Dodson on his trips to China and do their own research.

However, Pfefferkorn believes the study of paleobiology is more necessary than ever. His research deals with the Earth’s change 270 million years ago from an “icehouse climate” to a “greenhouse climate.” This may directly affect our understanding of global climate change.

“To figure out what could potentially happen in the future we have to look at the past … We are at the point where the past is the key to the future,” he said.

The eight students in the concentration say that paleobiology is engaging and rewarding. Students in the program are required to do individual research for a senior thesis and field work is encouraged.

For their research, Paleobiology students often go on digs in the deserts of New Mexico and China with Dodson, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine and a distinguished paleontologist. College junior Sam Cordero went on digs the summer of her freshman and sophomore years. “We’ve found dinosaurs,” she said, adding with a laugh, “and a ton of turtles.”

Cordero is currently working on her own research project as well. She is using the X-rays of toe claws of crocodiles and birds to reconstruct the foot claws of therapod dinosaurs.

According to Cordero and College senior Emma Hoffman, students’ interest in prehistoric life typically begins during their childhood. Hoffman’s father took her to see a dinosaur exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. The visit sparked her fascination with dinosaurs.

Now, she and her fellow students are living their childhood dreams as they travel around the world digging up dinosaurs.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.