Exhibits such as “Robo Rex,” a mechanical recreation of a tyrannosaurus skull by graduate student Darrin Molinaro, can’t help but catch your attention. The cool thing about Discovering Dinosaurs, is that after the “wow” factor has worn off, the exhibit does an excellent job of teaching you what you’re actually looking at. For instance “Robo Rex” has been used to support the thesis that tyrannosaurus bites were the strongest relative to size in animal history, which is pretty impressive to learn.
I’ll admit that my experience with Discovering Dinosaurs included the bonus of having a conversation with PhD student Scott Persons, whose work was crucial in the creation of the displays and story lines, so he let me know that sharing top notch research was a major goal of the exhibit. “One of the big things I wanted to try to do with the exhibit was to get away from the classic museum parade of monsters. Our exhibit I hope gives you a more intimate dinosaur experience,” he explained.
Persons’ own research, which is on display, involves “creating computer models of dinosaur muscles… and then giving a mass estimation for those different muscles,” which he’s used to understand the speed of certain dinosaurs. That’s right, he’s figuring out how fast creatures that lived millions of years ago actually moved.
|Image courtesy of kaylamoriarty.tumblr.com|
While displaying cutting edge research, Discovering Dinosaurs makes a concerted effort to be accessible to the average museum goer. Recent PhD graduate, Dr. Victoria Arbour’s display on ankylosaurs is a great examples of this, as it displayed a French horn beside a model of an ankylosaur skull. It turns out Dr. Arbour used CT scans of ankylosaur skulls to determine that they had looping nasal passages similar to the curves of a French horn. Persons told me how Discovering Dinosaurs highlighted the “the particular mystery stories that have unfolded from [their] research at the UofA,” and this was definitely one of them.
Persons explained to me, “this is not just an exhibit on dinosaurs, it’s an exhibit on dinosaur science” since you’ll get to “learn what dinosaur parents were like, you’ll learn about what different dinosaurs feared, you’ll learn about injuries that particular dinosaurs suffered throughout their lives.” And it’s true! Not only did I get to see fossils like the complete baby chasmosaurus that everyone was excited about last year or the U of A’s daspletosaurus skeleton (which is an early ancestor of tyrannosaurus rex), BUT, I got to learn about how dinosaurs lived AND how we’ve been able to figure out what they’re lives would have been like.
The fact that Discovering Dinosaurs is such a first class exhibit is even more impressive considering all the research and specimens are from the University of Alberta. All of the research mentioned above was done specifically by U of A graduate students. According to Persons “the idea to do a big dinosaur exhibit and to have it highlight student research, was originally pushed by... Philip Currie.” For those of you that don’t know Dr. Philip Currie is one of the premier professors at the U of A and a paleontology superstar. He’s won major awards, like the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Gold Medal, has had a museum named after him , and has been inspiring dino fanatics for years… Persons even admits that he“grew up watching [Dr. Currie] on tv.” Having a giant in paleontology guide the exhibit helps to explain why it stands out for its quality in a province full of dinosaur museums. But as Persons explained, Dr. Currie wanted the focus of this particular exhibit to be on the ideas of U of A students, not himself, and this was definitely clear as student research is at the core of Discovering Dinosaurs.
Suffice to say, all of this makes for a phenomenal experience at Discovering Dinosaurs. As a dinosaur enthusiast, but not exactly a connoisseur, I found all the displays accessible and extremely interesting. However with such unique research being highlighted, even someone with more understanding of dinosaurs or biology than myself would find the exhibit fascinating. And although the display is definitely not a “parade of monsters” there are tons of unique exhibits to look at such as the archaeopteryx, the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. And as Persons jokes “although we don’t have any fully articulated skeletons we do have lifesize reconstructions of the dinosaurs. So [if] you want to come back here and get a selfie next to a tyrannosaurus rex, this is the place to do it.”
Like I mentioned earlier, Discovering Dinosaurs is on until January 31. It’s also free and easily accessible thanks to the LRT, so if you’re looking for something to do (especially something indoors), I would encourage you to check it out!
Correction: A previous version of this post listed January 3 as the closing date for the exhibit, but we can confirm that it is most definitely January 31, 2014. So you should have plenty of time to check out the exhibit even after January 3... but once February hits, not so much.
----About the Author
How’s it going? My name is Dan and I’m a fourth year student with a Political Science and History double major. As such, people are my passion. I love reading about the cultures and the societies that they create, the problems that they face and the amazing ways that they have overcome their obstacles. I figure that there are at least one or two people out there who, like me, enjoy learning about those around them so I hope that YouAlberta will provide me with a space to help share other people’s stories.
When I’m not out and about people watching, you can generally find me hanging out with the Debate Society or contemplating which country I am going to visit next. So far I have been to 10, which is significantly less than the possible 196. I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out how to rectify this issue and am open to any suggestions you might have for my next trip!