Perot Museum Experts
Anthony R. Fiorillo, Ph.D.
Chief Curator and Vice President of Research and Collections
As far back as he can remember, Anthony R. Fiorillo, Ph.D., wanted to do one of two things professionally: play center field for the New York Yankees or study dinosaurs. Much to the detriment of his parents’ retirement plans, he studies dinosaurs. He was born and raised in the northeast, received his bachelor of science from the University of Connecticut and his master of science from the University of Nebraska. He completed his Ph.D. work in vertebrate paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania, became the Rea Postdoctoral Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and then a museum scientist at the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California-Berkeley.
Since 1995 Fiorillo has been the Curator of Earth Sciences and in 2014 was named chief curator and vice president of research and collections at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. Though he has collected fossils throughout North America and parts of Asia, he has primarily worked in western Texas and Alaska. For him, the appeal of fieldwork in Alaska is the result of the combination of intellectual pursuit and the rigors of working in the Arctic environment.
Fiorillo is also an adjunct associate professor at Southern Methodist University in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. He chaired, co-chaired and served on the Education Committee of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology from 1996-2004. His work in over a dozen units of the National Park Service has earned national recognition. He was named a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2008. Fiorillo has published over 100 scientific and popular papers.
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.”
Rose Jones, Ph.D.
Director of Evaluation
Dr. Jones had a slightly unorthodox approach to becoming a cultural anthropologist. Convinced that law school was her destiny, she pursued a B.A. in History at the University of New Orleans. During her last year of undergraduate school, a schedule conflict forced her to take a course in cultural anthropology. Within a few weeks, Dr. Jones realized that she had found her true passion – studying people and their cultures. She quickly abandoned the law school trajectory to focus on learning about the complex dynamics that define cross-cultural human behavior.
Dr. Jones earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Southern Methodist University. This required that she immerse herself in an unfamiliar culture, learning the language, social norms, customs and beliefs of a people she had no experience or familiarity with. Dr. Jones spent a year living in a rural, isolated village in St. Lucia, West Indies conducting ethnographic research, studying the ethnomedical beliefs and structural relations that impact the transmission and treatment of HIV/AIDS and gender systems.
Since completing her doctorate, Dr. Jones has applied her passion and expertise in cross-cultural human behavior to teaching, advocacy, and promoting cultural competency. She has held academic and research positions at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Children’s Health, Parkland Health, and Hospital System, and Southern Methodist University. Dr. Jones is currently the Director of Evaluation at the Perot Museum where she applies her knowledge of human behavior and cultural diversity toward understanding visitors’ expectations, preferences, and expectations. Dr. Jones is currently conducting research on climate change, diversity and inclusion, community engagement, and human evolution at the museum.
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.