Jason Osborne and Aaron Alford co-founded Paleo Quest, a non-profit whose mission is to advance the science of paleontology through material contributions to museum collections, field exploration, publication and the advancement of science education in primary and secondary schools. They are also the creators of the SharkFinder™ program. True to its name, SharkFinder™ is a STEM education program aimed at finding fossil elasmobranch (shark, skates and ray) remains in the Atlantic coastal plain of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. To date, elasmobranches from this region have been poorly characterized despite the fact that shark fossils from this region have been a favorite of collectors and paleontologists for more than a century. SharkFinder™ allows classrooms and citizen scientist the opportunity to search through highly concentrated fossil-bearing media to find and report shark fossils.
The two professional-amateur paleontologists carry out sensitive paleontological endeavors underwater, with almost no visibility and currents above five knots. Though challenging and dangerous, these efforts have resulted in important contributions to the sciences of stratigraphy and paleontology. They recently published a paper with the U.S. Geological Survey highlighting the first known protocetid in Virginia.
Jason Osborne is an innovator in the development of cutting-edge stereotactic lab equipment and electrophysiology instrumentation for in vivo and in vitro applications, optogenetics and behavioral assay systems for neural research. Twenty-one years of experience in the medical, aerospace and connector manufacturing industries have uniquely positioned Jason to create advanced neuroscience tooling unavailable in industry but custom-made for Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Janelia Farm Research Campus. Jason grew up on a small farm in south central Pennsylvania. He liked to work with his hands but always found time to explore, whether it was playing in a creek bank or cracking open a piece of slate to discover the earth's past. His priorities haven’t changed. Jason has made fossil discoveries that are sure to lead to the identification of new species and regularly donates his finds to museum collections and school systems for hands-on teaching aids.
Aaron Alford is a psychiatric epidemiologist and specializes in providing unique methodological solutions to answer pressing scientific questions in medicine and public health. His areas of expertise are in research and evaluation methods, risk and protective factors (including substance use, antisocial behavior and violence) and meta-analysis. Aaron is a Kentucky native that never got over his love of finding critters in the woods. While finishing his PhD at Johns Hopkins University, he began to explore the fossil exposures of the Central Atlantic coastal plain and develop his unique finding skill set. He has found, recovered, prepared and donated thousands of fossil specimens to museum collections for research purposes and to schools as teaching aids.
Together, Jason and Aaron are professional-amateur paleontologists who specialize in conducting paleontological field research in high-energy, low-visibility underwater environments. Many of the most informative sedimentary strata only occur underwater or are completely devoid of fossils when they occur above the average water table. Thus these strata have not received as much attention as sediments that occur frequently above the waterline. Just as importantly, Atlantic coastal plain rivers are notorious for their “blackwater,” water that is so stained by tannins and laden with sediment that it is nearly impossible to see when submersed.
Paleo Quest is working with leading curricula developers to provide an interactive, web-supported STEM curricula portal for SharkFinder™ and other similar modules. These curricular modules allow students and citizen scientists to view and participate in all phases of professional scientific endeavors. They will also provide examples of the sample collection process to highlight how Jason and Aaron use science in the field in order to collect and prepare the fossil media for SharkFinder™.
Paleo Quest is working on a documentary showing their exciting work and discoveries. Click the image for a "sneak peek" at the trailer being developed!