NAME: Jason Osborne
CURRENT TITLE: President/Co-Founder of Paleo Quest
AREA OF EXPERTISE: I am the president and co-founder of Paleo Quest, a 501c3 non-profit citizen science organization designed to advance the sciences of paleontology and geology through material contributions to museum collections, field exploration, scientific publication and the advancement of science education. I have co-developed SharkFinder™, a citizen science and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education program aimed at finding fossil elasmobranch (shark, skates and ray) remains that bring real, tangible science to classrooms and citizen scientists alike. I also promote STEM education as a STEM mentor, host researcher and research lead for JASON Learning, National Geographic and the Sea Research Foundation.
I am an innovator in the development of cutting-edge biomedical laboratory instrumentation and scientific project strategist for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Janelia Research Campus, a leading biomedical research center where outstanding scientists from diverse disciplines use emerging and innovative technologies to pursue biology’s most challenging problems, particularly on how the brain works.
As a consultant, I work for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and my primary responsibilities include implementing electrophysiology and behavioral assay instrumentation within laboratories for research methods in drug addiction.
My work in science and engineering has been recognized and featured in publications and media outlets such as Nature, Science, Scientific American, Popular Science, National Geographic, MSNBC, Cable News Network (CNN), and National Public Radio (NPR). In June 2013, the White House Executive Office of The President honored me as a Champion of Change for my dedication to increasing public engagement in science and science literacy. I have published/co-published methods in the area of electrophysiology methods in Nature and PloS One. I have also co-written an article for the Journal of Paleontology on protocetid whale “eocetus” wardii, as well as other articles for Nature including “Two-photon calcium imaging from head-fixed Drosophila during optomotor walking behavior” and “Anesthetized- and awake-patched whole-cell recordings in freely moving rats using UV-cured collar-based electrode stabilization.”
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 15 years in geology and paleontology. Over 20 yrs combined experience in fabrication, design, engineering and project management in the aerospace, defense and biomedical fields.
EDUCATION: Pomona College and Howard Hughes Medical Institute – classes focused on neurophysiology. Multiple certifications and two technical trade apprenticeship.
VIDEOS: NEW 8/21/2015! National Geographic video on a huge whale fossil skull I found: Fossil Whale Skull Discovery
Scientific American A 300-pound Fossil Skull in a Swamp? Come hear about citizen science in action! This video explains and shows the conditions while diving in black water and fossils found including Megalodon.
National Geographic short video on my work at HHMI: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/dragonfly-backpack-vin
I also brew beer using yeast from whale remains that are 35 million years old: The History Of Life In A Beer
What’s your job like?
My job…well this is where my vocation and avocation collide. I work as an engineer in a biomedical institute and a paleontologist under the non-profit organization — Paleo Quest. Since most, if not all, of you are interested in geology and paleontology, I’ll focus in that arena.
My “job” is amazing. I love contributing to science and helping to figure out our prehistoric past. I get to choose my scientific questions and field excursions. How cool is that! I also share experiences and my field research with K-12 students around the country.
What’s a typical day like?
My days in the field, where I have the most enjoyment, are quite adventurous to say the least. I am exploring in areas that, for the most part, humans haven’t explored. Most of my days are spent underwater in swamp rivers along the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The area east of route 95 along the eastern seaboard of the United States is a sweet spot for my underwater geology and paleontology. I search underwater formations where rivers have luckily done most of the excavation. The downside (and risky side) is that I’m challenged by next to zero or zero visibility, heavy currents, underwater obstacles such as trees, fishing line, nets, caverns, broken glass and the occasional bull shark or alligator depending on the area I’m searching.
So, why swamp rivers? The Atlantic Coastal Plain was once an ancient shallow sea, and since the ocean receded, rivers systems now cut through the prehistoric formations unavailing marine critter remains.
I love to explore and uncover our prehistoric past and share it with the world. Searching in these conditions has allowed me to find multiple new species, many new occurrences and help the United States Geological Survey researchers with data collection in areas they cannot explorer using traditional methods.
Imagine surveying underwater formations and coming across an entire whale skeleton dating many millions of years old. It’s quite the rush. To me, this is the pinnacle of fun.
There are many challenges to my type of field research, mostly physical and due to extreme conditions. This process takes a ton of upfront research from core or auger samples to finding the right underwater conditions. I take advantage of flooding rivers since raging water will flush out loose sediment. The downside is that I have to “hang on” underwater using a screwdriver to pull myself along the river bottom. My visible world is usually one foot in front of me. The payoff is incredible.
What’s your advice to students?
To be successful you need to take risks. You are your fate, your future and your legacy. Own it!