2008 Preparators' Grant Recipient
Bolortsetseg Minjin was born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and received a Bachelor's degree in geology and a Master's degree in invertebrate paleontology from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology. While a graduate student, she joined the paleontological expeditions of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). This included the last expedition to Mongolia led by the late Malcolm McKenna in 1997. With the support of the AMNH, Bolortsetseg received her PhD in earth and environmental sciences at the City University of New York. Her dissertation was on the postcranial skeleton of Multituberculata, with an emphasis on specimens from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia.
Bolortsetseg has conducted extensive fieldwork in Mongolia, starting with geologic mapping while an undergraduate. Since that time, she participated in five paleontological expeditions with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the AMNH, three as co-leader of a joint expedition with Georgia Southern University, and three as expedition leader of a joint expedition with the Museum of the Rockies. Just last year, she founded the non-profit "Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs" (ISMD) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The goals of the Institute are to develop a self-sustaining, active community of Mongolian paleontologists and a museum in Mongolia to preserve dinosaurs and other national treasures. Rapid progress has been made, and with the support of donors, a research facility with preparation lab has been constructed in Mongolia.
In 2008 Bolortsetseg accepted a post-doctoral research position with Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies to work on the paleobiology of the Cretaceous dinosaur Psittacosaurus. Since 2005, Jack has worked with Bolortsetseg in Mongolia and has actively supported her efforts to improve Mongolian paleontology. With the exception of Bolortsetseg, all PhD vertebrate paleontologists in Mongolia are approaching retirement age, and there is not a young cadre of well trained paleontologists in Mongolia to carry the torch. This is obviously a problem for Mongolia, which has a very rich fossil record, but the potential absence of Mongolian paleontologists threatens the long-standing tradition of collaboration between Mongolian and foreign scientists. The ISMD is feverishly working to fix this problem; it is supporting two Mongolian students with graduate fellowships and another student has been accepted by the Museum of the Rockies for PhD studies. A third is currently taking language classes at Montana State University.
A key component of creating a sustainable community of Mongolian paleontologists is having a collection of Mongolian fossils in Mongolia that is available for study by Mongolian students. Through her expeditions, Bolortsetseg has amassed a large collection of Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossils in Mongolia, but few specimens have been prepared because the institute does not have a fully trained, full-time preparator. Fortunately, Baasanjav Ugtbayar, a graduate of the Ulaanbaatar University, Mongolia, has agreed to join the ISMD as the head preparator. Baasanjav, who prepared more than 40 fossil rodent skulls for her senior thesis, is looking forward to learning more sophisticated preparation techniques. With the support of the Preparators' Grant, she will receive detailed training on the preparation of small fossils, acid preparation, molding and casting, as well as the preparation of histological sections of fossil bone. The Museum of the Rockies has graciously offered the time of three of their preparators and their lab to train Baasanjav. Upon completion of her training, Baasanjav will return to the ISMD in Mongolia and train other Mongolians in the skills she learned at the Museum of the Rockies. She and the team she leads will then be able to prepare many of the specimens at the ISMD, providing an invaluable source of fossil specimens for Mongolian students and scientists for years to come.