Profile: Diego Pol
Diego comes face to face with the
skull of an extinct crocodilian in
one of the Museum's exhibit halls.

Diego Pol was just 25 years old when he arrived at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in September 1999 to work with Museum paleontologists while pursuing his Ph.D. at Columbia University. He was already a grizzled veteran of paleontological fieldwork, with nine fossil-gathering expeditions under his belt. From 1994 to 1999, he took at least one trip each year into the deserts of his native Argentina. One 1994-95 expedition lasted 60 days, and in 1996, he spent a total of 75 days in the field. To complement his 265 days of desert fieldwork, he also published three scientific papers in paleontology journals, and became one of the world's leading experts on Notosuchus terrestris, an extinct crocodilian species that was the subject of his undergraduate thesis.

Diego began studying paleontology while still in high school, when he signed up for an internship program at the Natural Science Museum of Argentina (NSMA) in Buenos Aires, and he continued working with the scientists there all through college. "The paleontologists always needed help," he says. "It was a good way to get the feel of the day-to-day routine in a lab, and I liked it a lot. I was already interested in paleontology, and these experiences strengthened my conviction to pursue my interests."

Diego's high school was affiliated with the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina's top university. Professors from the university taught at his school, whose students automatically enter the university after graduating. Close links between the university and the museum meant that students had the opportunity to participate in the curators' research while they pursued their studies. Diego served as a scientific assistant to a researcher studying the ancestors of modern crocodiles, which became the focus of his university thesis. He also helped prepare fossils for analysis and display, and made casts of dinosaur bones for museum exhibitions.

When making copies of dinosaur bones to show the public, Diego made molds out of silicone, then cast the bones in polyester. When preparing actual fossils, he would use an air scribe, which is like a tiny jackhammer, to chip away the rock attached to a fossil. "It usually separates easily from bone," Diego says, "but if you go too fast, you can press through the rock into bone, and break the bone." He still remembers a scratch he carved into a fossil with the air scribe. Most people do this at least once, he says.