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A fresh face for fossils: Science Museum of Minnesota welcomes new head of paleontology

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The new curator of paleontology, Alex Hastings
The Science Museum of Minnesota's new curator of paleontology, Alex Hastings, brings enthusiasm, expertise and high hopes for community outreach.
Courtesy of Alex Hastings

There is something new in the world of things millions of years old: the Science Museum of Minnesota has a new curator of paleontology, Alex Hastings.

Hastings is taking over for Bruce Erickson, a veteran curator at the Museum who retired in 2017, after 58 years of service.

Before this position, Hastings was the assistant curator of paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History and did Ph.D. work at the University of Florida.

During his studies, Hastings was involved in naming five new species of fossil crocodile and helped discover the world's largest snake, the extinct Titanoboa from about 60 million years ago.

According to Laurie Fink, vice president of Science at the Science Museum, Hastings brings two key things to the table: unbridled enthusiasm for all things prehistoric and expertise on the evolution of crocodiles. (Proof: his Twitter handle is @Dr_CrocoGator)

"He has a natural rapport with people. When he presented his research at the museum last spring, his energy and passion for his work really stood out to us," Fink said in a press release welcoming Hastings to the team.

Hastings credited that to being a child at heart. His favorite dinosaur of all time is the Therizinosaurus, a two-legged herbivore with "ridiculously long claws".

"I was like most 3-year-olds: I just absolutely loved dinosaurs," he said. "The only difference is I still haven't grown up."

Hastings' expertise — fossilized crocodiles — also meshed well with the Museum's collection

"A huge part of my career has been based on the evolution of the crazy things crocodiles have done over the millions of years that they've been around, and there's a really great collection from a very important part of crocodile evolution right here in St. Paul," he said.

Aside from his own love for things that died a really long time ago, Hastings also wanted to promote STEM education to underserved students in Minnesota.

"Engaging with students in a personal way, with great examples of the scientific research that's being done at the [Museum], is a great way to connect with them and get them excited," he said.

Hastings is making an appearance at the Science Museum's Fossil Day festivities this Saturday at 10:30 a.m.