Growing up in a small town in western Kentucky, Neffra Matthews spent many weekends with her parents. Her dad, an amateur geologist, called himself a "rock hound" and Neffra, his "little pebble pup." Her mother was a photographer. One of Neffra's most vivid memories is a summer vacation, when she was about 8 years old, when her family collected rocks and toured museums that had great dinosaur bones. She still remembers the excitement she felt at seeing a Tyrannosaurus rex skull and other dinosaur bones at one museum she visited.
Neffra Matthews is Chief of the Branch of Photogrammetric Applications for BLM's National Science and Technology Center.
When it came time for college, Neffra couldn't decide between studying textiles (she also loved to sew) and geology. "As a kid, I always thought of myself as a scientist. Science was the subject I liked best. Learning 'facts' about nature and then seeing how nature really conformed to those 'facts' was always fun for me." As she got older and spent more time using geologic and topographic maps to find the best places to look for minerals and invertebrate fossils with her parents, the focus narrowed, and, in the end, geology won out. She received both her Bachelor's and Master's of Science degrees in Geology from the University of Kentucky. After college, she went to work for the Defense Mapping Agency in Louisville, Kentucky, where she learned photogrammetry and how to make topographic maps from aerial photography.
Later, she and her husband, also a geologist, moved to Denver, where Neffra began working for BLM?s National Science and Technology Center. Here, she and her group of eight work together as a team producing very detailed maps of important resource and recreational areas on public lands. These maps help BLM resource specialists make strategic land management decisions. In addition, they are also a tremendous aid to scientists who are documenting the past.
Neffra enjoys the sense of discovery that comes with finding dinosaur tracks and other fossils of animals that lived millions of years ago. "The totally amazing thing is that the evidence is preserved for us to find now. To collect data, make observations, and try to puzzle out what that prehistoric world was like is incredibly exciting to me. It's like being a dinosaur detective and sleuthing out the prehistoric past to better understand the life and times of the beasts long gone."
The "Dinosaur" quilt that Neffra made expresses her love of dinosaurs, and demonstrates her talent as an expert quilter.
Meeting and collaborating with paleontologists from all over the world are other aspects that she finds particularly fulfilling. Every year, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meets in a different part of North America. "Through these meetings I have met and become friends with some of the 'greats' working in the field of paleontology."
Neffra considers herself very lucky as she combines the love of the natural world that she learned from her father, the photographic techniques that she learned from her mother, and the mapping and GIS (geographic information systems) skills she learned from her jobs to document special resources on public lands.