Fossil Preparator

Michelle Pinsdorf in dark red shirt and blue jacket talking about a brownish fossil skull in front of her.
Michelle Pinsdorf explaining a fossil skull to students in Q?rius. Photo by Jennifer Renteria, Smithsonian.

Michelle Pinsdorf was born in Cortlandt Manor, New York and first became interested in fossils because she found dinosaurs fascinating. She spent her youth roaming the woods around her house and sketching dinosaurs in her school notebooks.  Michelle's Bachelor’s degree is in Geology from the State University of New York, where she also minored in Archaeology. She went to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for a Master’s degree in Vertebrate Paleontology, describing a skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex for her thesis study. Experience during an internship helped her discover her love for preparing fossils, because she enjoyed working with her hands and caring for museum specimens.

She came to the National Museum of Natural History in 2012. As a fossil preparator, she cleans and otherwise prepares fossils that she or others have brought in from the field. Some prepared fossils go on display in the museum, while others are used primarily for research. Some of the major fossils she has worked with are from Ceratosaurus, Triceratops, early reptiles, and marine mammals. Sometimes, she makes casts of fossils so that they can be shared for other museum displays or research at other institutions. Michelle loves the multidisciplinary work of fossil preparation, which requires a combination of skills in paleobiology, art, engineering, and the physical sciences.