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Dinosaur skeleton on white isolated background.

JACK HORNER – CAN YOU SPELL PALEONTOLOGY?

For this dreamer, going big meant going really big as in dinosaurs, the big screen, and the world stage.

As children, most of us dreamed about what we wanted to be when we grow up. For some of us, it was engraved on the posters we hung on our bedroom walls or the books that were stacked in our shelves. As life goes on though, most of us change life trajectories and end up in careers totally different than what we initially had in our little hearts. However, there are those whose passion is so engraved in their souls no matter how much they change, they eventually become who they always wanted to be. Jack Horner was one of those people. He turned his childhood passion for fossil hunting into a career as a world-renowned paleontologist, but it was an achievement that was nowhere near easy.

A Rough Beginning

Horner grew up as a shy, introverted boy with dyslexia, a condition that makes it hard to learn to read and absorb information, which became a major challenge for Jack but also worked in his favor. “I think dyslexia and the consequences of dyslexia explain my own success. From my failures, I’ve learned where I need help, such as reading and math,” says Horner. Jack found his escape in creating his science projects, where his mind was able to run free and his skills were able to come to life.

His mother encouraged him to excel in his science projects to boost his confidence. She wanted him to focus on doing what he was good at, and her support translated into award-winning projects at several science fairs.  Some of the projects Horner was known for were a rocket that soared to a height of several thousand feet, a Van de Graaff generator, and a Tesla coil that produced high-voltage electric arcs. One of his projects gained so much popularity that he was given a letter of recommendation to attend the University of Montana which he did soon after.

His life of hard obstacles didn’t just end during his admittance to the university. He eventually flunked college, got drafted into the Marines during Vietnam, and failed five successive quarters after returning to school.

When You Believe, Dreams Come True

Despite Horner’s setbacks, he believed in his dreams and knew deep down that if he didn’t give up, his path would eventually lead him to his dream of having a career in paleontology. He says “My goal in life was simple: I wanted to be a dinosaur paleontologist and make some kind of contribution to the field of paleontology that would help our understanding of dinosaurs as living creatures.  To accomplish this, I knew I needed a job in a museum, but I also realized that with my college grades and no degree, I might never get such a job.”

But as fate would have it, he landed a job at Princeton University’s Natural History Museum and was promoted several times quite quickly. In fact, he was able to obtain a management position where he not only was able to conduct his own research projects, but he also received funding for them from the National Science Foundation, a coveted recognition scientists only dream of receiving.

In 1982, Horner made the hard decision of leaving Princeton for Montana. At Montana State University, known for hosting the country’s largest paleontological field program, he taught two graduate classes in paleontology, two undergraduate honors courses, and continues to do so today. You would think that Horner’s compelling story ends here, but in fact, his journey into the world of paleontology was just beginning.

Horner’s Breakthrough

During a research project, Horner achieved a major scientific breakthrough. He discovered parts of dinosaur babies which drew the attention of major paleontological enthusiasts. Because of this discovery, he published a research paper that elevated him to be a credited authority in the paleontology world and earned him a degree, rightfully so. At this point, Horner was able to finally see the light he had always dreamed of in spite of his shortcomings.

Years later, Jack led several teams in discovering specimens of Tyrannosaurus Rex which are currently on display at the Museum of the Rockies, located in Bozeman, Montana. To this day, the museum hosts the largest T-Rex collection in the entire world. For someone who had major setbacks in life, you can just imagine the overwhelming feelings of joy that Horner must have felt after this major accomplishment.

Not only does Horner hold a high record for his incredible research, he has published over 100 research papers and is the author of eight books based on his love and passion for dinosaurs. His findings to this day are included in many high school and college curriculums. He is the recipient of a Doctorate of Science Honoris Causa from the University of Montana and was the Regent’s Professor of Paleontology at Montana State University, and now teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

Horner has the distinguished honor of having four dinosaurs named after him. They are:

  • 1993, Anasazisaurus horneri (a duck-billed dinosaur)
  • 1995, Achelousaurus horneri (a horned dinosaur)
  • 2013, Oohkotokia horneri (an armored dinosaur)
  • 2017, Daspletosaurus horneri (a tyrannosaurid meat-eater)

Jack Goes to Hollywood

Not only has Horner made in impact in the science world but also in Hollywood! Michael Chrichton, author of the world-famous book series Jurassic Park, made Horner his inspiration for creating the character of Dr. Alan Grant, the famous paleontologist in Jurassic Park. This honor then lead to the attention of world renown movie producer, Steven Spielberg, who was developing the Jurassic Park motion picture series.

Horner says, “Michael Crichton had based his Alan Grant character loosely on me and acknowledged getting his information on me from a book I had published in 1988 entitled ‘Digging Dinosaurs.’ Then, I think it was early in 1991, associate producer Lata Ryan called me and said Steven Spielberg wanted to know if I would consider working on the movie production of ‘Jurassic Park’ as a scientific consultant. I said yes. Shortly after that, I was invited to the Amblin offices at Universal Studios, where I met Steven and other crew members.” His job on set was to help make sure the dinosaurs were as accurately portrayed as they could be in both appearance and behavior.

Through it all, Horner’s story exemplifies the truest form of courage and determination. His legacy proves that you can be whatever you dream to be as long as you believe in it. We at Throomers celebrate Jack Horner not only as the world’s greatest paleontologist, but one of the greatest obstacle overcomers to ever set foot on this Earth, proving that anything is possible. Learn more about Horner by visiting his website at www.jackhornersworldofdinosaurs.com/.