Fieldwork has begun here in Edmonton and I’ll have some more pictures to show off next week…currently we are digging a big hole in the dirt, so there’s not much to see yet. Until then, here’s a wrap-up of some of my outreach and teaching activities from the last few weeks.
In addition to the Alberta Paleontological Society Symposium, I was asked to give a talk at a local skeptic’s conference, called LogiCON. This was a pretty neat event with lots of interesting speakers divided into three ‘tracks’ – beginner, advanced, and family. I gave both a family-track and advanced-track talk, which may have been a little overly ambitious, but worked out in the end. For the family-track talk, I did “The Wonderful World of Dinosaurs”, which was essentially an overview of the kinds of dinosaurs found in Alberta and a little bit about how palaeontologists study dinosaurs. There are lots of well-known Albertan dinosaurs, so I also included some lesser-known taxa like Chirostenotes (using the Smithsonian’s caenagnathid mount as a stand-in), Albertonykus (using Mononykus), and the newly-named leptoceratopsids Unescoceratops and Gryphoceratops.
For the advanced-track talk, I thought about talking about dinosaurs as ambassadors of evolution, but didn’t really feel like talking about creationism, so instead I opted for “The Dinosaur Family Tree”, a talk about…systematics! Complete with data matrix! Woohoo! Actually, this seemed to go over fairly well, as I went through the problems that palaeontologists (and most biologists) face when trying to reconstruct the tree of life: understanding sources of variation, defining a species, and running phylogenetic analyses. And we talked about what makes a dinosaur a dinosaur, as well. The diagram above is based off a specimen on display at the U of A Paleo Museum (UALVP 300, a composite of three individuals), with various dinosauromorph, dinosauriform, and dinosaurian features.
Finally, a few weeks ago I helped organize the annual U of A Paleo Gala, an event hosted by Dr. Michael Caldwell, which raises funds for specimen acquisition, research, and grad student scholarships. It’s a fancy dinner held at our faculty club, and the grad students put up posters and show off new specimens and research. There are silent and live auction items much like at SVP, and you can usually count on a song or two by John Acorn, the Nature Nut.
Those of you who were at the SVP in Las Vegas may recognize a few of the larger faces in this crowd… other recent acquisitions largely include specimens for our teaching collection, like casts of Tiktaalik, Anhanguera, Eotitanosuchus (=?Biarmosuchus), and Dinodontosaurus.
Well, that about covers it for now! Next week, the field!