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50 Most Beautiful Chicagoans

Paul Sereno

AGE: 53
OCCUPATION: paleontologist
HOMETOWN: Naperville
LIVES IN: East Side

The life of an honest-to-God digging-for-bones paleontologist, says Paul Sereno, of the University of Chicago, “is every bit as adventurous as a kid thinks it is.” That is more or less the message of Project Exploration, an educational outreach organization founded in 1999 by Sereno and his wife, Gabrielle Lyon, which connects disadvantaged teens with mentors from the science fields. “The average person can think that scientists in the ivory tower at the University of Chicago are white-lab-coat–wearing nuts,” he says. “But we have to make people understand that there are exciting careers out there.” As Sereno tells it, he was never the superachiever his siblings were (all five are also professors), and he got into Northern Illinois University by the skin of his teeth. He eventually earned a Ph.D. in geology from Columbia University and is today one of the world’s most recognized dinosaur hunters, traveling constantly to dig sites in remote regions. But he says his new focus is on ushering in the next generation. Sereno would like to make a documentary about some of the transformative stories of Chicago students touched by Project Exploration. “I’m thinking of calling it Science Dreams,” he says, explaining that the title is a reference to Hoop Dreams, the well-known film about inner-city kids trying to become professional basketball players. “But it’s really the opposite—because it’s about the possibility of science as opposed to the impossibility of basketball.”

 

 

Photograph: Maria Ponce

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