Meet Columbus citizen archaeologist Dennis Concilla, one of the growing number of amateurs helping professional scientists make significant discoveries.

Meet Columbus citizen archaeologist Dennis Concilla, one of the growing number of amateurs helping professional scientists make significant discoveries.

Dennis Concilla is a lawyer.He works for the Columbus firm Carlile Patchen & Murphy. He has a Downtown office. He wears a suit.

But this story is not aboutthatDennis Concilla. This story is about his alter ego: Dennis the Dinosaur-Hunter. Dennis the Dinosaur-Hunter wears khaki and sleeps in a bunkhouse. He carries a backpack and uses a tiny brush. He wanders the badlands of North Dakota, searching for fossilized bones of creatures long extinct. That's where he was in August-courtesy of a surprise 65th birthday present from his wife, Peggy. "She plotted with my secretary to free up my schedule," Concilla says.

Concilla is one of a growing number of so-called "citizen scientists"-everyday people who volunteer to contribute to research projects. These days, you can find amateur science enthusiasts counting migratory birds, tracking bees and even searching for intelligent life in the universe. And in Concilla's case, digging for bones.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Concilla was fascinated with science. "I was the youngest of four boys and inherited their rocks and an interest in finding fossils," says Concilla, who toyed with studying paleontology in college. Law school won out, but his interest in rocks and fossils never faded. He and Peggy hunted for fossils across Ohio and eventually took their children on daytrips.

Concilla says he got to a point in his career where he could travel to rock shows across the country and add to his growing collection. (He has a fully articulated mesosaur fossil in his kitchen.)

Then two years ago, he and Peggy traveled to the Green River Formation in Wyoming to hunt for fossils that date to the Eocene Period, about 48 million years ago. "We spent two days there collecting and came back with 35 fish fossils," he says.

Although finding fossils is Concilla's passion, Peggy had fun, too. "I thought it would be boring and difficult," she says. "But it was such a blast."

His trip to Marmarth, North Dakota, this year marks his biggest expedition yet. Concilla joined 11 others during the eighth and last week of the digging season. The trips are organized by paleontologist Tyler Lyson, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. "I grew up in the badlands," Lyson says. "And I've been working there since the 1990s."

He started taking volunteers there in 2003. "I needed a workforce," Lyson says. "And it's mutually beneficial. I get help, and they learn about Earth's history."

Lyson says he's worked with Broadway producers, teachers, professors, prison guards and even a CIA employee. The week Concilla was there, the group of scientists and volunteers focused on the period right before a meteorite wiped out dinosaurs (or so the theory goes).

There always is work to do. Some days, volunteers haul specimens. Others, they help unearth a find. And there are days when Lyson simply tells them to split up and explore the unexplored.

Concilla says there were so many fossils lying around that "by the fifth or sixth day, you are kicking big dinosaur bones out of the way."

It was on a Thursday when Lyson made a significant discovery. "He said he found what could be the best preserved triceratops skull in the badlands," Concilla says.

Because they were at the end of the season, the group marked the site and buried the skull. Lyson says he will return next summer to unearth it.

Concilla wants to go back, too. In the meantime, he'll continue to explore Ohio for trilobites and other smaller fossils. "I still get excited every time I find something," he says. "That will never go away."