Perot Museum Experts
Becca Peixotto, Ph.D.
Director and Research Scientist of the Center for the Exploration of the Human Journey
Becca Peixotto, Ph.D., remembers as a child finding artifacts around her grandparents’ old farmhouse in Vermont and keeping them in a "museum" on shelves in the garage. However, it wasn’t until Peixotto went back to graduate school after a career as an outdoor educator that her passion for archaeology flourished. She earned her BA from the University of Alabama-Huntsville, an MA from the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and an MA in public anthropology and her Ph.D. at American University in Washington, DC, where she later served as Archaeologist in Residence. In between, she taught at outdoor science schools, managed high ropes courses, led wilderness expeditions in mountain and desert environments for youth and adults, and enjoyed many personal adventures in the United States and abroad.
Peixotto’s circuitous route to archaeology has opened doors to exciting research in the field. For her Ph.D. research, Peixotto drew upon her years of experience traveling off-trail in wilderness areas to find traces of 18th and 19th century Maroon ("runaway slave") communities on small unmapped islands in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, helping to tell the story of one form of African-American resistance to enslavement. In 2013, when a call went out for archaeologists with caving and climbing experience to excavate hominid fossils deep in a cave in South Africa, she leapt at the chance to combine her skill sets to uncover what turned out to be a new-to-science ancient human relative, Homo naledi.
Peixotto relishes the intellectual (and physical) challenges of research in remote areas where finding, excavating, and analyzing sites requires new technologies and methods as well as adapting tried and true ones, and where the landscapes, artifacts, and bones often lead us to unexpected insights into our shared human history.
Ronald S. Tykoski, Ph.D.
Director, Paleontology Lab
Ronald S. Tykoski, Ph.D., started on his paleontological career as a child, collecting fossils of brachiopods and corals from nearby farm fields in his home state of Michigan. During college at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, he met his wife while they both worked as docents at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. He also worked in the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, where he first learned fossil preparation skills and methods. Tykoski began graduate studies in geological sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, where he focused on determining details of the anatomy, growth patterns, and evolutionary relationships of early meat-eating dinosaurs (theropods) and their kin. He earned a master of science degree in 1998 and a Ph.D. in 2005, before joining the Perot Museum of Nature and Science (at that time the Dallas Museum of Natural History) as the Museum’s fossil preparator that same year.
Tykoski’s recent work has mostly focused upon supporting the research of chief curator Tony Fiorillo and his studies of high-latitude, Late Cretaceous dinosaur communities in Alaska. “Some of the more spectacular projects I’ve overseen here have been the preparation of the skull of the ceratopsian dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum from Alaska, the description and naming of North America’s oldest fossil bird Flexomornis howei from Grapevine, Texas, and the preparation of the Museum’s series of huge neck vertebrae of the giant sauropod dinosaur Alamosaurus sanjuanensis from Big Bend National Park.”
While doing all of this, Tykoski continues his work on early theropod dinosaur relationships and evolution, and is a Research Associate at the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory of the University of Texas at Austin. “More importantly,” he adds, “my wife and I managed to find time to have two wonderful children who still find it cool that Dad gets to work on dinosaurs every day.”
Director, Gems and Minerals Center of Excellence
Kimberly Vagner is currently the Director of the Gems and Minerals Center of Excellence at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. She is responsible for curating the Lyda Hill Gems and Minerals Hall, creating programming specific to gems and minerals, and building partnerships with the mineral and gem community. With over 19 years’ experience in the gem and mineral world, she has worked at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), David Webb Fine Jewelry, Donna Distefano Ltd., and The Tsavorite Factory.
Kim credits her start in the field with volunteering in the Mineral Sciences Department of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. She has a Master of Arts from Parsons School of Design, a Graduate Gemologist certificate from the Gemological Institute of America, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs with minors in Earth Sciences and Art History from The George Washington University.