Picture the Alberta Badlands – weather-worn rocky outcroppings sculpt a rolling landscape painted in reds and tans, as dust sweeps past your cheeks in the 30 degree Celsius heat. You’ve been picking away at 70 million year-old rock for hours, using dental tools and a paint brush. Your hands are coated in plaster from the field jackets you helped make earlier in the day, used to transport fragile specimens to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. You think about the sweet watermelon and campfire popcorn that await you back at camp. Something begins emerging from the rock – a strange animal from another era...
While this scene may sound like something out of the Jurassic Park movies, it was Tanya Samman’s daily reality for several summers. Tanya’s work was part of her Ph.D. research in Palaeontology, the study of the history of animal and plant life on earth.
“I love being outdoors, and it’s particularly thrilling to be the first person to lay eyes on something that has been buried for 65 million years or more,” explains Tanya of her passion. “Field work is fun, if grueling at times, and it’s an integral part of Palaeontology. If no one collects new fossils in the field, there are no new specimens to study in the museum!”
Tanya’s work was part of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology’s field program, which continues today. She came to Palaeontology with a dual background in geoscience and biological science, allowing her to gain new insights into the earth’s history from both the rocks, and the fossilized life they preserved.
“The history of the earth is fascinating,” Tanya shares. “Working on extinct animals gives you a broad perspective of where humans fit into that history. It’s humbling and awe inspiring to study the life and death of creatures that walked this planet for over 150 million years – especially when you consider that modern humans have only been around for about 50,000 years.”
The multidisciplinary nature of Palaeontology has created many opportunities for Tanya. In addition to her work in the Badlands, she also worked at a dig site in Mongolia’s Gobi desert. She has also taught at many academic institutions, and worked as a science editor and communicator. Tanya volunteers as a mentor with the Cybermentor program, sharing her experiences with girls who will become our next generation of scientists.
“In a time where scientific literacy is becoming increasingly important, Palaeontology is a great gateway science,” says Tanya.
While Tanya’s experiences were 70 million years in the making, her memories will last a lifetime. “I’ll always remember the camaraderie, the shared experiences – like making cake in a cast iron pan over the campfire – and the excitement when you finally found a new specimen… It was hard work, but so much fun too!”
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