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Arthur Lakes Discovery

Paul Sereno

Paul Sereno is a paleontologist and a professor in the University of Chicago's department of organismal biology and anatomy.

Born October 11, 1957, Sereno grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and studied art and biology as an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. While earning a doctorate in geology at Columbia University, Sereno began studying dinosaur fossils at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York. Later traveling around the world, he studied and photographed dinosaur fossils in far-flung collections in China and Mongolia. In 1987 he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where he now teaches paleontology and evolution to graduate and undergraduate students and human anatomy to medical students.

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Paul Sereno hunting in the Sahara, August 2000

Discoverer of new dinosaur species on several continents, Sereno fuses his mission of scientific research with educational efforts, engaging his students in the process of discovery by taking them to the field to search for fossils. In 1998 Sereno and his wife, Gabrielle Lyon, co-founded Project Exploration, an organization dedicated to bringing dinosaur discoveries and natural science to the public and providing innovative educational opportunities for city youths.

Sereno's fieldwork began in 1988 in the Andean foothill region of Argentina, where his team unearthed the first complete skeletons of the primitive dinosaur Herrerasaurus. Returning to this area in 1991, Sereno's team discovered a small skeleton belonging to the new species Eoraptor, dated to 228 million years—the dawn of the dinosaur era.

In the early 1990s Sereno's focus shifted to Africa and rocks in the Sahara dating to the end of the dinosaur era, when the continents were drifting apart. Expeditions to Niger in 1993 and 1997 and Morocco in 1995 resulted in several discoveries, including the first skulls and skeletons of dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period in Africa. From 130-million-year-old rocks in Niger his team unearthed Afrovenator, a new 27-foot-long (8-meter-long) predator, and two skeletons of a 60-foot-long (18-meter-long) herbivore called Jobaria tiguidensis. From 110-million-year-old rocks in Niger they excavated Suchomimus, a new 36-foot-long (11-meter-long), fish-eating predator. And from 90-million-year-old rocks in Morocco, they uncovered Deltadromeus, a new 30-foot-long (9-meter-long) predator, and found the first skull of the huge meat-eater Carcharadontosaurus. These and other fossils Sereno found in the Sahara document the course of dinosaur evolution in Africa as the continent drifted into isolation a hundred million years ago.

Sereno's honors include the Chicago Tribune's Teacher of the Year Award in 1993, Chicago magazine's Chicagoan of the Year in 1996, Newsweek magazine's The Century Club (1997), People Weekly's 50 Most Beautiful People (1997), Esquire's 100 Best People in the World (1997), the Boston Museum of Science's Walker Prize for extraordinary contributions in paleontology (1997), and Columbia University's University Medal for Excellence (1999).