Submitted/Celina and Marina Suarez

KU alums Celina and Marina Suarez are shown at a paleontological dig in Utah. A new species of dinosaur was named for the twins and former KU grad students who discovered it.

New species of dinosaur named for former KU scholars

Identical twin sisters with KU doctoral degrees in geology created a stir in the Department of Geology after a new species of dinosaur was named for them late last year.

In December, the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One, released a paper announcing that one of the oldest dinosaurs of its type ever identified in North America would be named for Celina Suarez and Marina Suarez, the twin geochemists who earned their doctorates at KU – “Geminiraptor suarezarum.”

The twins found the G. suarezarum bones in 2004 during a research expedition in Utah while they were master’s degree students at Temple University.

Luis Gonzalez, chair of geology, was among those recently congratulating the twins. He described them as hard-working and great team players — known in the department for their twin-speak — “one is always finishing a sentence for the other,” he said.

Celina completed her doctorate in geology at KU in spring 2010 and will begin a postdoctoral research job at Boise State University in Idaho in February. Marina, two minutes younger than her twin, completed her doctorate at KU in fall 2009. She is the Morten K. and Jane Blaustein Post-doctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s earth and planetary sciences department. In the fall, Marina begins a tenure-track position in geology at the University of Texas-at-San Antonio.

Both are still surprised at their discovery of a new troodontid or bird-like raptor and their new distinction. Worldwide there are about 700 named dinosaurs.

“It really was a dream come true when we found the bones. I was so excited,” Melina said. “So much has happened between then and now though, that it seems like it's been so long ago. I never thought of a dinosaur being named for us though.”

Celina agreed, “I never thought it would happen. We (and I mean all of us paleo nerds) always dream about such a thing happening, but never think it will. As kids, though, we always wanted to find a new dinosaur...again, one of those things you dream about happening. And, well, it did, so we were really excited about the find and even more thrilled that it was named after us.”

The site where the twins found the bones is now known as the “Suarez Sisters’ Quarry” and has since yielded at least two, possibly three, new dinosaur discoveries. James Kirkland, state paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey, and the Suarez sisters believe the quarry and others nearby may be a mass mortality site – and are trying to determine what caused so many animals to die in that area.

Gonzalez credits Greg Ludvigson, Kansas Geological Survey researcher, who has worked with Kirkland, with bringing the twins to KU as doctoral students.

“Greg had met them [at a conference] and told me and Bob Goldstein, chair of the department at the time, that we needed to meet the them. We decided we wanted them here,” Gonzalez said.

This summer the twins hope to make their second trip to China to join a team researching rocks in northwest China similar in age to those found in Utah. They will join two scientists they met as doctoral students in 2006 on their first visit abroad and to China.

In 2006, Gonzalez and Ludvigson arranged to take seven KU students including one undergraduate and the twins on the NSF trip to China.

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Susan Mercer, associate director, Institute for Policy and Social Research
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