The Office of the Vice President for Research recognizes Sterling Nesbitt, an assistant professor of geological sciences in the College of Science, who reveals the history of life through the discovery, analysis, and comparison of fossil remains of reptiles, dinosaurs, and their predecessors, the archosaurs.
A vertebrate paleontologist, Nesbitt has been involved in naming 17 different reptiles, dinosaurs, and dinosaur relatives in the last 10 years, including seven which he discovered.
His latest addition to the paleontological lexicon is Nundasuchus, (noon-dah-suh-kis) a 9-foot-long carnivorous reptile with steak-knifelike teeth, bony plates on the back, and legs that lie under its body. Nundasuchus is not a dinosaur, but one of the large reptiles that lived before dinosaurs took over the world.
Nundasuchus was discovered near Songea in southeastern Tanzania in East Africa. The fossil helps fill the gap in the understanding of the Earth near the time when the common ancestor of birds and crocodilians was alive.
But not all discoveries are made in the field. Nesbitt was among researchers perusing the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California in Berkeley when by chance they came across a thigh bone of a large land reptile known as rauisuchid. They noticed the tooth of a water-dwelling reptilian predator called a phytosaur lodged in the bone.
The discovery proved that the water predator targeted terrestrial as well as aquatic prey for lunch.
As a youth, Nesbitt developed his passion for paleontology during camping trips to the edge of the Colorado Plateau. That thirst for discovering ancient life has taken him to places such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, Tanzania, Mongolia, and Madagascar.
He appears in the 2007 IMAX movie Dinosaurs Alive! and the re-worked 2008 version of Walking With Dinosaurs on the Discovery Channel.
He received his bachelor’s degree in integrative biology with a minor in geology from University of California Berkeley in 2004. He received his master’s degree and Ph.D from Columbia University, completing the majority of his research at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.