When Tyler Lyson '06 discovered his first dinosaur, he was a sixth-grade student in Marmarth, N.D., a town of 140 people on the edge of the badlands. It wasn't a discovery that would shake the paleontology world or grace the covers of National Geographic, but it was remarkable nonetheless. Lyson, a pre-middle school amateur paleontologist, had unearthed a fairly common hadrosaur that still had fossilized skin impressions.
In a recent New York Times feature, Lyson jokes that he peaked in the 6th grade, yet just a few years after his first dinosaur discovery, Lyson unearthed another find -- a 25-foot-long mummified dinosaur. He was still in high school. This time, his discovery made National Geographic, the Washington Post, and Good Morning America.
Although it was a dinosaur nicknamed Dakota that earned him headlines, Lyson nurtured a long-held love of turtles, whose shells he discovered as a youngster along an area he called the Turtle Graveyard. He chose Swarthmore largely because of the influence of Howard A. Schneiderman Professor of Biology Scott Gilbert, who promised to let him study one of the great turtle mysteries: how the animal makes it shell.
Lyson attended Swarthmore as an Evans Scholar and co-founded the Marmarth Research Foundation, located in his hometown, which provides volunteers with hands-on field and lab work on fossils. After graduating from Swarthmore, he earned a doctorate from Yale.
Larson now moves on to the fossil-rich world of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where he will continue his research on the evolution of turtles.