Paleobiologist and Curator of Ostracoda (Ostracodes)

Dr. Gene Hunt received a 2012 Charles Schuchert Award for an outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. University of Chicago photo.
Dr. Gene Hunt received a 2012 Charles Schuchert Award for an outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. University of Chicago photo.

Paleontologist Gene Hunt grew up in Staten Island, New York. Gene earned a degree in biology from to Duke University, during which he became fascinated with evolutionary patterns. After finishing his Bachelor’s degree, Gene applied to a summer internship at the National Museum of Natural History, expecting to be placed in a project looking at living organisms.  However, he ended up doing a project in paleontology, measuring lots and lots of trilobites, which set him down a path to becoming a paleontologist. Gene got his PhD in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago, using mathematical tools to interpret patterns in the fossil record. He pioneered the development of statistical analyses to detect and track evolutionary changes over time.

Gene came to the Smithsonian in 2005, where he has mostly used tiny marine animals called ostracodes to study patterns in evolution that show up in the fossil record. Ostracodes are a type of crustacean and, while they have soft bodies, their shells are durable and are richly represented in the fossil record. Because they are abundant and sensitive to environmental conditions they serve as a good model for looking at changes over time. Recently, Gene has analyzed how differences between male and female ostracodes (sexual dimorphism) might influence the risk of extinction faced by species. A typical day at the Museum finds Gene hunched over a microscope, trying to figure out ostracode species, or hunched over his computer, trying to figure out how to make his own computer code to analyze those species.