I recently interviewed Dr. John (Jack) Horner about coming to Chapman University in Orange as a fellow. He’ll be leading research and teaching classes on education – not dinos – but I talked to him a little bit about both.
The following is the interview I had that was published in The Orange County Register a few months ago.
ORANGE – John “Jack” Horner, a world-renowned paleontologist who was a consultant for Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park,” will join Chapman University as a presidential fellow in the fall of 2016.
Horner, 69, has been at the forefront of important discoveries. He was among the group that unearthed the first dinosaur eggs in the western hemisphere that turned out to include the first discovery of dinosaur embryos. He was a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient in 1986, too.
Next summer, he will retire after 33 years as regents professor of paleontology at Montana State University and then head to Chapman, where he will help with creative-learning techniques.
Horner spoke about his work, his influence in the field, and what brought him to Chapman:
Q. What do you do as a paleontologist?
A. I do a lot of things. First and foremost, I go look for dinosaurs. I do that all over the world. I have worked all over Asia and South America and Africa and Europe. …
I get a team together of anywhere from 10 to 100 people, and we find out what questions we’re interested in answering and we set up camp and look for stuff. When we find it, we excavate it. Then we clean up the fossils and study them. …
Most of the questions I’m concerned with are learning about dinosaur behavior and growth. It covers a lot of information.
Q. How has your work influenced current theory?
A. When I started back in the ‘70s, people still thought dinosaurs were regular old reptiles. I was part of the group of people that started realizing that birds were dinosaur descendants, and a lot of my early discoveries confirmed that. I was part of what they call the “dinosaur renaissance.”
The whole notion of dinosaurs being green and slow and cold-blooded changed over to them being more like birds, warm-blooded and less reptilian.
Q. How did you get involved at Chapman University, and what kind of work will you be doing there?
A. “I recently came down to Chapman for the dyslexic summit. I’m dyslexic. I’ve actually written more books than I’ve ever read. The way I do things is very different from the way most people do things. I think very spatially. …
Chancellor (Daniele) Struppa asked me about wanting to work there and he was interested in looking at how education works and changing the education system in such a way that people like myself and other dyslexics wouldn’t be turned away just because we think differently.
So, I’m coming down there to rethink education and create a class about creativity and imagination and thinking outside of the box.
Q. What did you do as a consultant for the “Jurassic Park” franchise?
A. My job was to help the director … to make sure everything was accurate that could be accurate. I helped to make sure the actors pronounced the dinosaur names correctly. I was there to oversee the film and make sure they (the dinosaurs and the characters) could be as scientifically accurate as they could be for a fictional film.
Q. How are you similar or different to the character of Alan Grant?
A. Alan Grant is a character that was created in the book by Michael Crichton, and he created that character based on a book I wrote called “Digging Dinosaurs.” In the movie, Alan Grant is based on the book character, which is based on my discoveries and work in Montana. Basically there’s a lot of insinuation that he’s based on me.
All I can say is I’m glad his character didn’t get eaten by a dinosaur.
Q. Do you have a favorite thing you’ve accomplished or discovery you’ve made?
A. I’ve found an awful lot of stuff, but I always say that my favorite part of my whole career is producing really great students. I’m so proud of my students. They’re more important to me than any ol’ dinosaur.
Q. Do you have a favorite dinosaur?
A. I have named about a dozen of them, so I guess I should pick one of those. But I never really have a favorite. … I’d say my favorite one is always the one I’m currently working on. It changes almost every day.