The Researcher: Sterling Nesbitt grew up in Mesa, Arizona in a family of four. In his spare time, he plays tennis, paintball, softball and guitar. His interest in paleontology began when he was young having always been interested in biology and how nature works, Sterling is currently a junior attending UCB, and plans to major in Integrative Biology with a Geology minor. He intends to become a professor and teach geology and paleontology. Currently, Sterling is running field expeditions into the Moenkopi Formation (early Mesozoic) with students and volunteers in order to search for important vertebrate fossils.


OUTSTANDING RESEARCHER: STERLING NESBITT

INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE MOENKOPI FORMATION'S VERTEBRATE FAUNA


The Research: Berkeley vertebrate paleontology has been known for its great collections of later Mesozoic age fossils including the famous dinosaurs. Few know that Berkeley also has an amazing collection of vertebrates from the early Mesozoic before the dinosaurs ruled the planet. A diversity of animals that have no modern representatives lived for millions of years before the dinosaurs. New discoveries of these animals have renewed interest in unanswered questions.

Fieldwork in the upper Moenkopi Formation (Early Mesozoic) of Arizona has been conducted for the last four summers and new animals have been discovered. The Moenkopi Formation contains a very important fauna that links Early Triassic faunas to Late Triassic faunas from around the world. In broader scope, the Moenkopi fauna represents a very important transition from a primitive fauna dominated by giant amphibians and primitive reptiles to a more modern fauna consisting of crocodiles, turtles, lizards, mammals, birds and dinosaurs. With the exception of the dinosaurs, most of the groups listed above still survive today.

Currently, a project involving a recently discovered skeleton of a crocodile-like animal, named Arizonasaurus, will help better understand the relationships of a group of animals closely related to crocodiles. Arizonasaurus is a carnivorous “upright,” quadrapedal, sailbacked reptile that was at the top of the Moenkopi fauna foodweb just before the dinosaurs took over. The partial skeleton of Arizonasaurus is nearly fifty percent complete (including a partial skull) and represents one of the best and earliest one of its kind in existence.

Undergraduate research at Berkeley has become part of my everyday life: I even began work in a research lab a week before my freshman year. Working on research projects with graduate students and professors has taught me important concepts and given me valuable experience that will be very helpful in my path to become a professor of paleontology. The guidance of Dr. Kevin Padian and his students has been invaluable; most of them have become lifelong friends. Research that I have been a part of has been published and presented at multiple professional meetings. The professional meetings gave me a chance to meet top scientists in paleontology and new research opportunities. Meeting and discussing my research to paleontologists has provided opportunities for graduate school and my ambition to become a professor specializing in paleontology and evolutionary biology.

-Sterling Nesbitt

Sterling Nesbitt's faculty research mentor is Professor Kevin Padian, Integrative Biology.

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Outstanding researchers

Sheryl L. M. Cahill
David Flores
Viengkham Malathong
Sterling Nesbitt

Leila Takayama


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