Staff Profile

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Jingmai O'Connor

Associate Curator of Fossil Reptiles

Negaunee Integrative Research Center

Relatively speaking, my passion for paleontology developed late in life. I first became interested in evolution through Dr. Donald Prothero while a Geology major at Occidental College (Class of 2004). With his encouragement, I started volunteering in the Paleontology Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (LA NHM) and conducted undergraduate research with their fossil mammal curator Dr. Xiaoming Wang. For my PhD, I started studying Mesozoic birds at the University of Southern California (Class of 2009) with Drs. David Bottjer (USC) and Luis Chiappe (LA NHM). After graduation, I moved to Beijing, China where I worked with Dr. Zhonghe Zhou at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) for nearly 11 years. I started as a postdoc and became their youngest full professor in 2015.

My research explores the evolution of flight in the Dinosauria, the dinosaur-bird transition, and the evolution of modern avian physiology, not through any one aspect but exploring Paraves (the group formed by birds and their closest non-avian dinosaurian relatives) through feather origin and function, aerodynamics, reproduction, respiration, diet, anatomy, systematics, ontogeny, taxonomy, histology, and other topics based on what we find preserved.

Thanks to the amazing fossils that I’ve been fortunate to study, my research has been published in Nature, Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and Current Biology, and in 2019 I was awarded the Schuchert Award for excellence in Paleontology under the age of 40 by the Paleontological Society.

I have conducted fieldwork in China, Mongolia, Romania, South Africa, Canada, and the United States, and I am looking forward to starting my own active field program based out of the Field Museum.

In addition to my curatorial duties at the Field Museum, I am a research associate at LA NHM and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, an adjunct professor at the IVPP, and I serve as an editorial board member for several journals.

I am passionate about helping others along their academic trajectory and sharing my research with audiences of all ages hoping to help inspire the next generation of scientists.