17 July 2018

A Jurassic Park-inspired childhood dream of becoming a palaeontologist comes true for University of Queensland PhD candidate Kaylene Butler today - with the help of an ancient fanged kangaroo.

The UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences student will be awarded her doctorate for research on ancient kangaroo species, including the Balbaroo fangaroo, a member of a family of fanged kangaroo about the size of a wallaby, which became extinct approximately 10 million years ago.

Ms Butler believes that her life-long journey to becoming a palaeontologist was sparked by Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Jurassic Park.

“I’ll be honest and say that I decided that I wanted to be a palaeontologist entirely because I watched Jurassic Park too much as a child,” she said.

“That scientifically inaccurate movie inspired my love of palaeontology and of science, and at some point early on I realised that the study of palaeontology wasn't just about dinosaurs but all extinct life.”

While volunteering at the Queensland Museum and in two palaeontology labs at UQ during her undergraduate degree, Kaylene realised she was particularly interested in the evolution of Australia's unique fauna, from koalas to kangaroos.

“I became really interested in how kangaroos evolved into the hopping Australian icons we know today,” she said.

“I wonder if Steven Spielberg would have even dreamt of an ancient fanged kangaroo, and that’s just one of the incredible discoveries my colleagues and I have been making during my time at UQ.

“The University of Queensland has really offered me the opportunity to take a lifelong dream and make it something real, with excellent teachers and incredible opportunities, helping direct me through my research to a career beyond.”

Ms Butler is now working for UQ’s Wonder of Science Program and is hoping to continue her research into Australia's early kangaroos as a postdoctoral researcher, or possibly continue her studies to become a science teacher.

“Maybe I’ll use Jurassic Park to inspire the next generation of scientists, but maybe not Jurassic World, because you just can’t beat the original,” she said.

Media: Kaylene Butler, kaylene.butler@uqconnect.edu.au, +61 400 445 175; Dominic Jarvis, dominic.jarvis@uq.edu.au, +61 413 334 924.