2018 Ph.D. Graduate Profile: Daniel Barta

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Education posts

On October 1, the seventh cohort of graduates from the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School—the first Ph.D.-degree-granting program for any museum in the Western Hemisphere—will receive Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Comparative Biology at a commencement ceremony in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. We’re profiling these soon-to-be Ph.D.s.

Danny Barta sits at a desk and uses a microscope and computer.
Working on his dissertation in the lab, Daniel Barta looks at the bone histology or microscopic structure of a Coelophysis specimen found at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.
C. Yu

It isn’t every day you discover your career mentor in grade school. But that was the case for Daniel Barta, who has just finished four years studying dinosaur growth and development under the Museum’s Macauley Curator Mark Norell in the Division of Paleontology.

“We were reading in elementary school about the first feathered dinos found in China, and I read a related article about Mark’s work in the Gobi Desert about nesting dinos,” Barta recalls. “I remember thinking Mongolia would be a cool place to travel and that maybe when I am a professor, I‘d get to do that!”


Childhood photo of Danny Barta kneeling next to a sand pit where has posed an assortment of plastic dinosaurs.
In his backyard in Helena, Montana, Daniel Barta reveals his early interest in paleontology, arranging dinosaurs in a sandbox “diorama.”
A. Barta

After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in Earth Sciences (specializing in Paleontology), Barta was accepted to the Richard Gilder Graduate School. Within a year he found himself accompanying Norell to the Gobi Desert on a joint expedition of the Museum and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, long before becoming the professor he’d dreamed about as a child. Soon after that, Barta co-authored a paper about a specimen of the ornithischian dinosaur Haya griva found there.

What surprised Barta most about his time in the Museum’s Ph.D. program was how much he came to appreciate the old along with the new. “I realized in a tangible sense what a great history the Museum had, the personalities behind the artifacts, and that I was a part of that,” he says. Through the application of new analytical approaches, including CT scanning and ultra-thin bone histology studies, the research on historical specimens remains at the cutting edge of science. “The Museum’s collections are that link,” says Barta.


Danny Barta and two colleagues sit on the sand near an excavation site in the Gobi desert.
Daniel Barta excavates a specimen of the dinosaur Haya griva in the Gobi Desert with Mongolian colleagues Muugii Munkhtsetseg, left, and Khatanbaatar Purevdorj, right.
M. Norell

Working with Norell and with his co-advisor Jin Meng, curator of fossil mammals in the Division of Paleontology, Barta published numerous scientific papers, served as a scientific advisor for and a co-instructor for the Lang Science Program high school course about the Museum’s traveling exhibition Dinosaurs Among Us, hosted an international press conference announcing the formal scientific name of the Museum’s recently-mounted titanosaur skeleton, and engaged with the Museum’s social media followers on topics ranging from dinosaur growth on Facebook Live to why pterodactyls aren’t dinosaurs.

Barta, who now lives in Whittier, California, has embarked on his professorial career, recently starting as a lecturer teaching human anatomy and introductory biology at California State University, Los Angeles.