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Kirk Johnson hadn’t yet earned his Ph.D., or become director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. After all, he was just 6. But what he did have then, as today, was a consuming fascination with fossils.

In this, the first of a series of animations focused on how people got interested in science, Johnson recounts a formative childhood adventure that still thrills him today. The animation is part of a larger collection of origin stories for both scientists and non-scientists, that is jointly produced by Nautilus and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. You can read about people’s stories and contribute your own at

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