SAN ANTONIO - Marina Suarez, who has a Ph.D. in geology, is an assistant professor in geological sciences at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Dr. Suarez’s geological interests include times in the earth’s history when the climate was warmer, including the cretaceous period.
“What really got me interested in geology were dinosaurs, I grew up loving dinosaurs,” Suarez said.
As a graduate student at Temple University, Suarez was studying rocks and conducting geological research in Utah when she happened upon dinosaur bones.
Suarez and her twin sister Celina were exploring a gully when she noticed bones sticking out of the cliff face.
After calling her sister over to see the discovery and talking with colleague Jim Kirkland, state paleontologist for Utah, the team decided to revisit the gully the following morning.
Fossil hunting depends on light, and the morning sun revealed an entire slope littered with dinosaur bone fragments.
Some of the bones included skeletal pieces from small theropod, or two legged, dinosaurs. The team also found a lot of body armor fossils, from dinosaurs like then ankylosaurus.
Following the discovery the College of Eastern Utah submitted an application to excavate the site, named the Suarez twins site by Kirkland.
During excavation of the Suarez twin’s sight, a small skull fragment was unearthed. There were enough unique features on the fragment to identify it as a new species, the Geminiraptor Suarezarum.
The genus name, Geminiraptor, comes from Gemini, alluding to twins, and raptor, which is a small dinosaur.
The species name Suarezarum comes from the name of the site where the fossils were discovered, the Suarez twin’s site.
The site still hasn’t been completely excavated and there is evidence pointing to a second potential new species discovery.
“I think maybe it was some ribs and some limb fragments, and that’s just not enough new material to describe a new species. What you really want is skull material because skull material can be so much more diagnostic,” said Suarez.
Suarez says it’s hard to tell just from a skull fragment but the Geminiraptor is estimated to be about a meter tall and in a group of dinosaurs called troodontidae, bird-like dinosaurs that walk on two feet.
These types of dinosaurs were more common during the cretaceous period and are known to have very large eyes and a big brain in dinosaur standards.
For her work and accomplishments in the field of geology, Suarez won the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career development award.
The award includes a $478,000 grant that will help support Suarez’s research in paleoclimatology and help her facilitate science education.
Suarez plans to use some of the grant money to increase the participation of community college students from San Antonio College in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. Her goal is to help fund students going into the field get hands on research.
“They give the grant to people who they think will be good mentors, and I hope to be a good mentor,” said Suarez.
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