When a professional geologist gifted nine-year-old Brooks B. Britt his rock collection, Britt thought, “This is it. I’m going to be a geologist.”
Characteristic of his independent nature, Britt began looking for fossils on his own at age ten and discovered his love of paleontology. At fourteen, he and his cousin made plans to embark on their own dinosaur expedition, a 900-mile bike ride from Seattle to Vernal, Utah. Although Britt’s parents did object to the proposed form of transportation, Britt and his cousin found other means to get to Vernal in 1970, where they biked into the desert and found the remains of an enormous dinosaur – a Diplodocus.
Although the scale of their expedition was impressive, what is most impressive was the young boys’ perseverance—when local authorities deemed the Diplodocus find too large and costly to investigate, Britt and his cousin returned for the next two summers to excavate portions of the 87-foot dinosaur by themselves.
This type of perseverance has carried Dr. Britt through his entire career. While wandering BYU campus as a twelve-year-old during a Boy Scout PowWow, he stumbled upon the dinosaur museum in the Eyring Science Center. There he made the acquaintance of Dr. Jim Jensen (also known as “Dinosaur Jim,” who at that time was the curator of the museum). Britt and Jensen kept in contact through handwritten letters for several years until Britt graduated from high school and Jensen offered him a position as his student assistant at BYU.
Britt received both his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees in geology from BYU in 1982 and 1987, respectively. He received his PhD from the University of Calgary in 1993. Later that year he became Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of Western Colorado and then director of the Stewart Museum in Ogden in 1998. Beginning in 2002, he became an associate professor at Brigham Young University.
About his current position, Dr. Britt said, “This was my dream job. I always wanted to be a teacher and work at a museum, and here I get to do both.”
In his recent work, an enormous deal of perseverance was required in the reassembly of Moabosaurus utahensis, a dinosaur that was found by BYU professors and named in 2017. This 32-foot-long relic was constructed from thousands of bone fragments.
In explaining the difficulty of the assembly process, Dr. Britt describes what occurred 125 million years ago: “There were many animals that died and then their bones were walked on and broken. . . . Then a stream picked them up and moved them along, and then they got walked on again. It’s like taking a bunch of skeletons, putting them in a cement mixer, churning their bones around, then dumping them out and letting them solidify into concrete. Now go try to find the bones that go together.”
However, after forty years of work, the team of BYU paleontologists and students pieced together the entire remains of the gigantean new species. When asked if it is difficult to trust students with such delicate and important work, Dr. Britt replied, “No! Sometimes I trust them more than I trust myself.” He appreciates the student’s young eyes and phenomenal dexterous skills. “And some of them are pretty darn patient.”
Because Dr. Britt teaches a variety of entry-level geology courses in addition to his research, he has the opportunity to shape student’s mindsets at the outset of their higher education experience. He is aware that many of the students that take his classes are not science students, so his goal is to help students develop a broader perspective about geology and the nature of science in general.
Emphasizing the importance of geology in our daily lives, he says, “People don’t realize how their lives intertwine, with these tentacles going back to a geologist.” He mentioned our use of oil, uranium, toothpaste, drywall, plastic, makeup, and the lithium in our batteries as examples. “Everything we have comes out of the ground and a geologist is involved in some step along the way.”
Additionally he says, “I just want [students] to experience the wonders of this planet that we live on.” But not just the wonders that we see on earth today.
“Everyone talks about God’s creations now,” he says. “It’s not just now—there’s a deep past. It’s like having the Oxford dictionary . . . and taking one page out and thinking ‘this is all there is.’ No, you’ve got thousands of pages to look at before that one and each one has a different story on it.”
Britts wants students to understand that the earth is always changing, and there is a great interconnectedness between the life forms of the past, those of today, and those of the future.
—Lia Ludlam, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences