Joe Sertich never outgrew his childhood love of dinosaurs. Instead, the Denver native parlayed his youthful obsession into a career as a paleontologist.
How did you get into paleontology?
Most kids go through a phase where they love dinosaurs; I just never really grew out of it. In college I started studying geology and biology, and I saw how you could combine them to understand the past. That’s when I fell in love with it.
What areas of dinosaur study do you focus on?
I am trying to understand past ecosystems and how they change. So what was the Rocky Mountain region like between 90 and 66 million years ago? I look at dinosaurs, but also other animals like crocodiles, turtles, birds, fish, and insects. I also work in the Southern Hemisphere, where I study how plate tectonics influenced evolution.
You have a master’s in geology and a Ph.D. in human anatomy. How do these topics inform your work?
The rocks are the story. They tell you what the environment was like and how the dinosaurs, or other extinct animals, became entombed. That’s the geology side of who I am. But understanding the animals themselves—their anatomy, their behavior, their physiology—all of that comes from the anatomical side.
What projects are you working on right now to help put that big picture together?
Here in North America I’m working in Southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We’re pulling out new dinosaurs and new ecosystems from this part of the world, from 74 million to 80 million years ago.
Anything exciting happening soon at DMNS?
We’re kicking off a big new program focused on making discoveries. We want to unlock the dinosaur story of the Rocky Mountains. We are on the cusp of something really big, and in the next few years, I think Denver will become the center of dinosaur paleontology in the West.