Executive Director and William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball Chair
Dr. Scott D. Sampson is the Executive Director and William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball Chair of the California Academy of Sciences, where he leads the institution’s world-class museum as well as its programs of scientific research, sustainability, and education. A renowned paleontologist, passionate science communicator, and seasoned museum leader, Sampson joined the Academy in September 2019.
To some, namely preschoolers and their parents, Sampson may be best known as “Dr. Scott the Paleontologist,” the on-air host for the Emmy-nominated PBS KIDS television series Dinosaur Train. Outside of this enthusiastic audience, however, Sampson is better known for his many other contributions to scientific research and public engagement. Among his peers in the scientific community, Sampson is highly regarded for his expertise on Late Cretaceous dinosaurs, from theropods in Madagascar to horned dinosaurs in North America. And in the museum community, Sampson is celebrated as a skilled organizational leader, a passionate advocate for connecting people to nature, and a champion for the critical role that collections-based scientific institutions like the Academy play in global efforts to understand and sustain life on Earth.
Before joining the Academy, Sampson served as President and CEO of Science World British Columbia, one of Canada’s premier science centers. There, he launched a suite of bold new programs designed to dramatically scale STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/design & Math) literacy across the province and facilitate a more sustainable future. He also focused on operating a sustainable, equitable institution, which included introducing a number of new initiatives aimed at increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, including community access and engagement programs for underserved and Indigenous communities.
Sampson has also served as the Vice President of Research and Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and, prior to that, Chief Curator at the Natural History Museum of Utah. He has also worked as an independent museum and media consultant, advising on fundraising and exhibition design for clients including the American Museum of Natural History and the Oakland Museum of California.
In addition to his role as a science advisor and host for Dinosaur Train, Sampson has extensive media and science communication experience, including as the science advisor and host of the four-part Discovery Channel series Dinosaur Planet and as the author of multiple books for general audiences, including: Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life (University of California Press, 2009); How to Raise a Wild Child, a book aimed at helping parents, teachers, and others foster a deep connection with nature in children (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015); and You Can Be A Paleontologist, a book for young enthusiasts of dinosaurs, science, and nature (National Geographic, 2017).
Sampson has won numerous awards and honors, including the Public Service Award from the Geological Society of America, the Lifetime Legacy Award from Environmental Learning for Kids, and Time Magazine Canada’s “Who Defines the new Frontiers of Science” list. He also served as the National Ambassador for Nature Rocks, a global initiative of The Nature Conservancy aimed at inspiring families to explore nature.