The Bone Collector: Mariana Di Giacomo on fossil preservation

We are delighted to welcome our next curator, PhD student Mariana Di Giacomo (@MarianaDGiacomo) from the University of Delaware and Smithsonian NMNH Fellow. So why is Mariana here with us this week? Mariana is a palaeontologist and dinosaur fancier whose focus is on fossil preservation. She’s also a Little-Stegosauruskeen baker and traveller. Here’s how Mariana ended up as a palaeontologist.


When I was 7, Jurassic Park premiered in my country (Uruguay), and there was merchandise everywhere. My grandmother bought these weekly (?) magazines for my brother, but he was too young to read them, so I did. I was hooked. I was one of those “dino obsessed” kids, only I never outgrew the phase. I kept telling my parents I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up, and I did.


When I was working on my master’s degree, I went to a fossil dig that changed my interests. This amazing site had so many preservation issues that I started reading a lot about conservation. However, I felt that wasn’t enough, so I decided to do a PhD on preservation of fossils. I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware, and a Conservation Fellow at the Smithsonian NMNH.


I am currently in the writing stage of my dissertation, which focuses on the effects of fossil preparation on two different things. The first one is the long-term preservation of bones. I want to make sure the decisions we make when we prepare fossils are informed ones that ensure the remains will last many, many years. The second one is related to paleontology itself. Forty years ago, we never thought we would be able to take proteins from fossils. This means scientific studies evolve, and when we prepare fossils, we have to keep that in our minds and not only document what we do, but also only use techniques that are XRF-badgenot too invasive. This way, the fossils will be useful in 50 or maybe 100 years from now.


Microscope-Cassia-BaloghBecause everybody loves fossils. They are fascinating to look at and to learn from. Preserving them is great for preserving science, but it’s also great for preserving memories. I want parents to go to museums and tell their children they used to love to look at those skeletons when they were little.


Everything I do is related to my topic. I teach a class for Art Conservation undergrads, and participate in organizations that care about natural history collections such as SPNHC and ICOM-CC (where I am the coordinator for the Natural History Collections working group). I also started lightly managing some Twitter accounts (@spnhcepc, @siconserve and @ud_artcons). Finally, I help the collection I used to work at in Uruguay with conservation tips and with general guidance on how to preserve the fossils.


I love to bake. I have my sourdough starter, whose name is Fred (as in Fred the Bread), and I bake bread every week. I also like to have fun with other baking projects like muffins, cupcakes, cookies, and anything that looks complicated and crazy. If I can decorate things, then it makes me even happier.


Travelling and discovering places is what I love the most. An ideal day off would be at a place I’ve never been, where I get to learn their history, eat their typical foods, and see their natural sights as well.


Please welcome Mariana to Real Scientists!

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