Published: March 14, 2017

Women in Science: Akiko Shinya, Fossil Preparator

Akiko Shinya, Chief Preparator, Negaunee Integrative Research Center

Akiko Shinya prepares vertebrate fossils for research, prospects and excavates fossils, conserves specimens, and works with volunteers and students in the lab. 

What has been your favorite part of the job, or a memorable moment?

All of it! I love what I did, do, and will do in the future! I particularly enjoy fieldwork, living under the stars with colleagues and discovering something new. The highlight so far is discovering my own dinosaur, Gualicho shinyae, in Patagonia. I'm going to Antarctica this year. I am super psyched about that!

[Edit: find out how Akiko's time in Antarctica went! She and Curator of Dinosaurs Pete Makovicky sat down to tell us all about it—from dinosaur digs to what to wear (bunny boots) and what to eat.] 

What advice do you have for future scientists?

Try it out. Try volunteering in a museum or in a university and see if you really enjoy it, because you will never know if you don't try it out. Becoming a volunteer as a fossil preparator at the ROM was the best thing I did for my career. I discovered that not only did I enjoy it a lot, but also that I was truly good at this work. Also, don't hesitate to ask for advice and help from people who are doing what you want to do. There are a lot of helpful and kind people out there!

Akiko Shinya
Chief Preparator

Akiko's primary role at the Field Museum is to prepare vertebrate fossils using mechanical, manual, and chemical methods, and supervises staff, volunteers and students while managing three vertebrate fossil preparation labs including McDonald's Fossil Preparation Lab.  Fossil preparation exposes a fossil by removing it from the surrounding matrix so that researchers can see the fossil's detail morphology. With many curators, associated researchers, and students studying variety of fossils, she and her team prepare a wide variety of specimens including dinosaurs, fish, birds, amphibians, mammals, synapsids, and marine reptiles.  A specimen's size can vary from a tiny amphibian jaw that is smaller than a finger tip to a large marine reptile skull that is larger than her (she is 5'1").  As a preparator, Akiko has a unique opportunity to see a specimen removed from its matrix first hand and her lab is always full of brand new ancient creatures from all over the world.  Akiko also spends a few weeks to months each year doing fieldwork to locate and unearth fossils.  She has done her fieldwork in the United States, Canada, Romania, China, Argentina, and Antarctica enjoyed wilderness and working with her colleagues.  She has also prepared multiple specimens and trained preparators internationally.  Akiko loves her work and will continue to explore, discover and unearth vertebrate fossils.Fossil preparation. Fossil prospecting and excavation.