Franziska Sattler, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
Franziska Sattler, a vertebrate palaeontologist, has always been interested in dinosaurs. In particular, the teeth of tyrannosaurus rex ‘Tristan Otto’ made a real impression on her. The famous dinosaur was one of the attractions at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. It was moved to Copenhagen in February. Amongst others, the Brain City Ambassador now organises and hosts a special series of events called ‘Kaffeeklatsch mit Wissenschaft’ (Coffee chit-chat with science) at the Museum.
“Ever since I was little, I knew that I wanted to become a palaeontologist one day, even though I wasn’t familiar with the word back then.It was during my bachelor’s degree studies in 2010, at my first excavation in the US state of Montana, that it dawned on me that I had always planned on doing this,” says Franziska Sattler. “We had a lot of success and excavated many items. However, it was the dinosaur teeth that impressed me the most. As part of my bachelor thesis I had already studied dentition changes in sauropods - the dinosaurs with the very long necks.”
Born and raised in Berlin, Franziska Sattler initially studied geological sciences and evolutionary biology at the Freie Universität Berlin (FU). Since 2009, she has been working at the Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum) in Berlin. Initially, she started out as a trainee then later became a research assistant. In 2015, the young scientist had a real stroke of luck: “The Tyrannosaurus rex, ‘Tristan Otto’, came to Berlin and I was of course totally in awe. Teeth often waste away over time, but Tristan had a wonderfully preserved skull and jaw.” Together with a team at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the items were scanned with the help of computer tomography. “It actually works the same way as with humans, except that it’s not every day you put a dinosaur skeleton through the scanner. The CT images allow us to examine the jaw without damaging the pieces.”
Berlin is international and open. The city has a wonderful network of many different institutions that offer great chances of cooperation. A lot of emphasis is also placed on scientific communication here.
According to Franziska Sattler, it was already known that dinosaurs had replacement teeth. However, it had never been accurately researched and documented as to how they grew. “The replacement teeth slowly continued to push against the existing teeth until they fell out. Dinosaurs didn’t have tooth roots like we do. Since the Tyrannosaurus rex replaced its teeth every one to two years, its bite was always ready to go and strong enough to crunch shells and break bones.” In 2019, the research team in which Franziska Sattler worked at the Museum für Naturkunde published scientific articles on the tooth replacement cycle. “People are often surprised to find out that a large proportion of our work is done on computers. Many of them imagine scenes like those out of films. Unfortunately, excavations are just a small part of our scientific work.
In February 2020, Tristan Otto’s bones were carefully packaged away in boxes and transported to Copenhagen. Starting in April, the prominent dinosaur will spend a year impressing visitors at the Museum für Naturkunde there. For Franziska Sattler it was the end of a project dear to her heart. However, she’s not one to sit around twiddling her thumbs. On the first Sunday of every month, she now organises and hosts a series of events called ‘Kaffeeklatsch mit Wissenschaft’ (Coffee chit-chat with science) at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, where she passes on her experience.
“So far, the feedback about ‘Kaffeeklatsch mit Wissenschaft’ has been overwhelming and extremely positive. A wide variety of people come along, from young families to pensioners and they all ask really interesting questions. I always see how amazed people are when they can talk to a young scientist who gives them a glimpse behind the scenes. Some visitors have no idea that research is carried out at the museum.” Since 2016, Franziska Sattler has also been involved in the ‘Pint of Science Germany’. Together with a team of scientists, she organises the festival that takes place each year in Berlin’s pubs. She mentions a motivating factor behind her dedication to the world of scientific communication: “There are so many great scientists here in Berlin. I want to play my part in supporting these researchers in the same way that they have done for me.”
And what does Franziska Sattler wish for Brain City Berlin? The energetic young scientist has a well thought-out response to this question too: “I hope that Berlin continues to attract lots of international scientists because they make the city what it is. There are so many opportunities to live and research here bilingually and become part of the community. I also hope that it becomes more ‘normal’ to openly communicate research results and to make them freely accessible.”