December 23, 2011

Yuri Kimura studies tiny mice teeth under a microscope in a lab in Heroy Hall.

Dinosaur bones in a museum sparked SMU graduate student Yuri Kimura’s childhood fascination with fossils.

“I was given a piece of 100-million-year-old sedimentary rock,” Kimura recalls of her visit to a museum in her native Japan. “I could not imagine how many stories this stone had experienced through 100 million years.”

Today Kimura is earning her doctoral degree in paleontology from Dedman College’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. Instead of enormous dinosaurs, however, Kimura’s focus is small mammals, whose fragile fossilized bones require a microscope to identify.

As a field assistant on an international expedition to a fossil site in Inner Mongolia, Kimura helped collect fossils smaller than a grain of rice. Guided by SMU Professor of Paleontology Louis Jacobs, Kimura identified the 17-million-year-old fossils as a new species of birch mouse, the earliest prehistoric ancestor of the modern-day birch mouse. Named Sicista primus, the new species connects two previously known fossils that are nine million years apart