Amanda Falk is an American paleontologist who specializes in the study of ancient and modern bird tracks. She did her undergraduate degree at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. From 2007 to 2009, she built a working model of Microraptor, a feathered four-winged dinosaur, with her team at KU. Now a PhD candidate at the University of Kansas, Falk is in China on a 10-month Fulbright student grant. She is currently based in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, where she studies bird fossils from the Yixian and Jiufotang Formations. During a recent visit to Beijing, Falk spoke to students at Beijing International Bilingual Academy about her work.
Phoebe Turner, 10, UK
Are dinosaurs animals?
Yes, they are. They’re a special kind of reptile called an archosaur; the only archosaurs left are crocodiles and birds.
Sherry Kwon, 11, Korea
What was the first fossil ever found?
The first dinosaur ever found was Iguanodon in England; it was just a tooth.
Jack Lin, 11, China
What is the oldest fossil you ever found?
It was an Oligocene fossil, which is quite young, maybe 25 million years old.
Helena Huang, 10, Canada
Did you go to a cave and see cavemen?
I don’t work on human evolution, but in China there’s a very famous human fossil called Peking Man.
Rodrick Kim, 12, South Korea
How do you know where the fossils are?
We can go to places where people have found fossils before, or we can look for rocks of a certain age.
Steven Liu, 11, China
How do you dig up the fossils?
We have to use shovels, big pickaxes, or even backhoes to excavate the fossil.
Helena Liu, 11, Netherlands/China
How much time does it take to dig up fossils?
If it’s very small, we can collect it in one day. If we find something like one of those long-necked dinosaurs, it can take months or even years.
Himang Park, 10, South Korea
What are some tools that you use to find fossils?
Our eyes, mostly. We don’t do anything like you see in Jurassic Park.
Nicole Song, 10, China
Where do the fossils go?
People who find fossils on their property can own them, but a lot of the time they go to a museum or university.
Benjamin Liu, 10, Canada
What is your exact job on the team?
As a graduate student, I do all kinds of work: I prepare the fossils, copy them, make models of them, and write papers on them.
Savannah Fadling, 11, US
How do you know which fossils go with which animal?
That is something we call “comparative anatomy,” which is looking at the bones and
muscles of modern animals and comparing them to fossils.
Kevin Lim, 12, South Korea
How can you tell bird tracks from dinosaur tracks?
A lot of the time, bird tracks will have a very large angle between their toes; that means
the toe width will be much larger than the toe length. In dinosaurs, you get a much narrower toe so that foot width will be much smaller than foot length.
Vincent Cai, 11, US
How do you know what time period the fossil is from?
We have something called radiometric dating; when a volcano erupts, it forms rock immediately; we can take out crystals to know exactly how old that rock is.
Lisa Ni, 10, China
Why do you make models?
Obviously we can’t go around chucking the microraptor fossil off a cliff; it would break. But if we build a model based on modern data, then we can test how well Microraptor could fly.
Josh Li, 11, US
What’s the closest animal to Microraptor?
The flying lemur; it glides from tree to tree much like Microraptor, but it’s a mammal.
Benjamin Liu, 10, Canada
How did the asteroid make dinosaurs go extinct?
When an asteroid hits the Earth, it doesn’t just affect that one little area. A lot of stuff gets thrown up into the atmosphere, so it changes the weather. You start losing the animals that eat the plants, then the animals that eat the animals that eat the plants.
Evelyn Wong, 11, US
Has anything surprising or scary ever happened to you?
When I was going out to do research in South Dakota, I walked out to these big slabs of rock. The grass was up to my waist; all of a sudden I heard a “bzzz” – it was a rattlesnake sliding right past my leg.
Chris Ding, 10, Canada
Where was the most dangerous place you found a fossil?
I usually stay out of trouble, but people have gone into places where there were bands of marauding bandits. There are also places with dangerous levels of radiation.
Shania Fadling, 10, US
What’s the best thing you found in Kansas?
A really neat bird called Hesperornis; it was like the penguin of the Cretaceous, with long legs, webbed feet, and tiny wings.
Tate Liang, 10, Canada
Do you like your job?
I love my job. I get to mix up mud, play with more mud, wait for the mud to dry, and go home.