Published: 08th September 2021
This Chennai girl is India's youngest paleontologist and she's collected 136 fossils in four years
We speak to Aswatha Biju, who embraced paleontology at the age of 10. Today, she delivers lectures on the subject to her peers and adults too
At the age of five, when Aswatha Biju received an encyclopaedia as a birthday present, she was fascinated by what she saw in it. What drew her most was an image of an ammonite fossil. "I loved collecting shells whenever I visited a beach and this looked like a very unique shell," says Aswatha. At that age, Aswatha confesses to not knowing much about fossils. Interest sufficiently peaked, Aswatha went to the Government Museum in Egmore, Chennai, with her mother. "There, for the first time, I saw an ammonite fossil. I could feel it, touch it and it was truly fascinating," adds Aswatha. Now 14 years old, Aswatha has managed to collect over 136 fossils and is regarded as India's youngest paleontologist.
Aswatha was greatly inspired by Periyar University Geology professor M U Ramkumar, whom she met when she was 10. "He taught me all that I know about fossils — where and how to find them, how to take care of them and much more," says Aswatha. Over the next four years, Aswatha visited various areas in search of fossils, including Ariyalur and Gunduperumbedu in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra's Sironcha in Gadchiroli district. She visited these places along with her parents, during her vacations. Aswatha has collected fossils of marine invertebrates, chordates, vertebrates, including dinosaur bones, fossils of flora and even microfossils.
Aswatha conducting a seminar on paleontology
But that's not all. Aswatha was also able to notice a lack of awareness about paleontology in the country. "I began approaching schools in Chennai and nearby areas so that I could create awareness about the subject among my peers," says Aswatha. Over time, Aswatha managed to make a name for herself and started to get invited to schools, colleges, research institutes and even museums to conduct seminars about her experience in paleontology. Post-COVID, she is now conducting webinars for students and enthusiasts across the country and she even found international attendees.
A Class IX student of Sri Chaitanya Techno School, Aswatha says she is able to manage her studies quite easily. "My entire day is spent in studies and my work on paleontology. I use my free time researching new technology in this field and also new fossils that were discovered. I want to become a renowned paleontologist when I grow up and would love to study at IISER. Eventually, I want to pursue molecular paleontology from abroad," concludes Aswatha.