Stanford University
John Payne

Photo credit: John Todd

The best discoveries

Jonathan PayneProfessor and ChairGeological Sciences

Published

"Everything I work on is motivated by a desire to understand and explain the evolution of life on Earth," said paleobiologist Jonathan Payne, professor and chair of Geological Sciences. Payne recalled first being introduced to paleontology when he was six, after a geologist took him to visit a quarry in upstate New York to look for fossils of extinct, hard-shelled marine creatures known as trilobites. Payne mostly found other kinds of fossils that day, but he did stumble upon a very fine trilobite specimen a few years later, while throwing rocks into a stream with a friend. The story, Payne said, highlights the fact that the best discoveries are often ones you aren't trying to make, and that science is not a solo enterprise.

"The Department of Geological Sciences is extremely broad. We have people working at spatial scales ranging from atomic to planetary, and we have people working on processes happening today as well as events that occurred 4 billion years ago. Everything that we see today is a product of this long history of the planet - that's what we're trying to understand."

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