It’s #SciArt week on Twitter!

I think we often downplay or take for granted the role that art plays in science. High quality art is obviously a hugely important aspect of public science communication. A paper describing a new species of dinosaur will have much more impact on the public if it’s accompanied by an excellent life restoration of that dinosaur. Astronomers and their spacey kin use illustrations to show us satellites, the solar system, and far-off planets we can’t photograph. Biologists dealing with the very small need illustrators to show us the cells in our bodies, what’s inside those cells, what DNA looks like and how it works – the list is endless. Continue reading

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The Great Canadian Dinosaur Hunt

Dino Hunt Canada is almost here! Starting this Friday, History Channel Canada will be airing a series of hour-long documentaries devoted to dinosaur expeditions all across Canada – and not just in the famous badlands of Alberta! The production crew visited field localities in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, multiple places around Alberta, and British Columbia. It’s going to be a real who’s who and where’s where of Canadian palaeontology.

I’ll be in the second episode featuring work in Dinosaur Provincial Park, which we filmed in 2013. It was a fun if somewhat unusual experience to have such a large film crew with us, and I’m looking forward to seeing the whole shebang!

What was the crew filming in DPP? Tune in to find out!

There’s also a really excellent website to accompany the show. You can learn more about some of the dinosaurs featured in the series (including wonderful new artwork by Danielle Dufault!), see interviews with some of the palaeontologists, and submit ideas for a nickname for a new dinosaur excavated during the show by the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project. You can even submit questions and maybe have my weirdo face answer them via Skype! All in all, it’s looking really good so far and I’m so happy to see the huge variety of dinosaur research being conducted across Canada by so many talented and hardworking people.

The Systematic Position of the King of the Monsters

A few weeks ago I was really excited to be contacted by Danielle Venton, a freelance writer working on a piece for Popular Mechanics about the biology of Godzilla! With a new big-screen appearance by Godzilla right around the corner, I thought this was a fun exercise in speculative biology. The piece is out now at Popular Mechanics and I highly recommend checking out “The Impossible Anatomy of Godzilla“. Continue reading

Cock-a-doodle-doo

I’ve finally got the time and gumption to sit down and write again, so let’s do some research blogging! And let’s show some skin while we’re at it!

The first paper I’ll talk about is not one that I’m lead author on, but which was a really fun project to be involved in. This was the description of a super cool specimen of a hadrosaur from the area around Grande Prairie with some impressive skin impressions. UALVP 53722 was collected as a large block that had fallen along the creekside. Unfortunately, the rest of the skeleton could not be located, which might mean it’s still in situ somewhere with nothing visible, or it had already broken apart into unrecognizable pieces. The block preserves the back of the skull with the neck arched over the shoulders, the classic ‘death pose’ seen in many dinosaur skeletons. Most of the skull is missing, but what is present shows that it is an Edmontosaurus regalis, the slightly older species of Edmontosaurus

Flat-headed Edmontosaurus at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Tarbosaurus, Part 2

In my last post I talked about the role of museums in conserving fossil resources, with regards to the recent news about the Tarbosaurus auction. I wanted to address some of the other frequent comments I have seen on blogs and news articles. So, we’re now on to:

Comment 2: How do we know the tyrannosaur came from Mongolia? (and the related question, which I’ve decided to lump with this one: Why does the auction company, and subsequent news stories, refer to the specimen as Tyrannosaurus bataar while palaeontologists call it Tarbosaurus? Continue reading

Let it snow…

Well it’s a balmy -37C windchill here today (but just -27C without, so it’s not so bad! right?), and wonderfully snowy, and what do you know but there’s an article about our day in Dinosaur Provincial Park last December.

You can read Ed Struzik’s complementary (and complimentary) pieces in the Edmonton Journal:

Science rewrites assumptions about prehistoric animals.”

and

Dinosaur hunter Phil Currie shows no sign of slowing down.” This one features a nice video of us preparing the Daspletosaurus jacket for the helicopter lift, and the helicopter lift itself.

Hearing more about them.

After the talks had ended on the first day of the Hadrosaur Symposium, I had a bit of free time to visit the galleries, which I hadn’t seen in about a year and a half. I was expecting the Alberta Unearthed: 25 Years of Discovery exhibit, but was delighted by this unexpected surprise: a short, but excellent, exhibit on women in palaeontology!

Located on the ramp up to the Darwin exhibit after you exit Lords of the Land, the exhibit consists of 19 or 20 profiles of female palaeontologists. Each framed image included a photo, a brief biography, and an image of a representative specimen or field locality (example above featuring Dr. Betsy Nicholls). I was particularly pleased to see that the Tyrrell had attempted to include women of many different races, nationalities, ages, and career stages, studying a variety of taxa and using many different techniques.

I was particularly intrigued the quote from Naomi Oreskes below the exhibit title, “The question is not why there haven’t been more women in science, the question is rather why we have not heard more about them.” Dr. Oreskes is a historian of science at University of California at San Diego, and her paper “Objectivity or Heroism? The Invisibility of Women in Science” is well worth a read (and really, go read it – palaeontology is all about heroism). It’s a sentiment that I share and that I’ve discussed before: although there may not be an equal ratio of women:men in palaeontology yet, we’re definitely getting closer, so why don’t we seem to be as visible as the men? It is certainly up to us to speak up for ourselves, but it’s really, really nice to see a major institution like the Tyrrell stepping up and hosting an exhibit like this.

I hope that at least some people will take the time to stop and read some of the biographies on their way to the fossils – if I had one complaint, it is that because the exhibit consists only of pictures in a hallway leading to the main exhibits, that it may be easily passed over. If specimens had been incorporated somehow, as they were with the Great Minds, Fresh Finds exhibit (showcasing the work of the museum’s scientists), that might have been able to grab more attention. Sadly, most people walking through this hallway while I was present would pause for a moment at the entrance, but then skip on through the rest of the exhibit. I realize that space constraints probably would not permit anything more than what they have done, however, and the exhibit is pleasant to look at and rewarding for those who take some time to read the biographies. In particular, I hope school groups take advantage of it and that teachers incorporate questions about female scientists into their activities.

I’ll finish here with a very nice video produced by the Tyrrell, featuring Dr. Don Brinkman discussing the work of Dr. Betsy Nicholls, who was a curator at the museum until her death in 2004 and whose work is featured in the Triassic Giant gallery.

Ankylosaurus through the Ages

I saw a post up at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs today – did you know Ankylosaurus could fly? The original Sinclair World’s Fair Ankylosaurus was being lifted by crane from the Houston Museum of Natural History as the museum undergoes expansion and renovations.

This got me thinking about a talk I gave for the Alberta Palaeontological Society annual meeting last March: “My ankylosaur is a big dumb tank! Ankylosaur reconstructions in the scientific literature and popular media.” I talked about why ankylosaurs are reconstructed in certain ways, both accurate and inaccurate. Darren Naish at Tetrapod Zoology has been talking about memes in palaeontological illustration, and how certain wacky reconstructions and poses pop up again and again. I think this is perhaps especially well illustrated by several ankylosaur taxa and today I’d like to talk about Ankylosaurus.

Brown 1908. The Ankylosauridae, a new family of armored dinosaurs from the upper Cretaceous. AMNH Bulletin 24:187-201. Continue reading

On the Presence of Female Palaeontologists in the Popular Media

Last week I did a bunch of interviews with many different media outlets about a new paper I had published. One of the most interesting was a conversation I had with CBC Radio Edmonton’s show Radio Active, which aired on Friday evening. You can listen to it here.

I was asked not just about the pterosaur, but about what it is like to be a female palaeontologist and how the media exposure may affect the career of a scientist just starting out. What I thought was interesting was that the interviewers both before and during the Radio Active show noted that most people don’t really associate palaeontology with women, and that dinosaurs seem to be more for boys. I found this a bit surprising because whenever I go out and do activities with younger kids, ALL kids love dinosaurs, regardless of gender. But it got me thinking again about women in palaeontology, and in particular, where are the female palaeontologists in the popular media? Continue reading