Specimen collections form the backbone of exhibits, education, and research at a natural history museum. The most complete and well-preserved specimens are usually the ones highlighted in exhibits, while fragmented and incomplete specimens are held in collection rooms behind the scenes. The latter specimens may not be pretty or obvious as to which animal or plant they represent, but they are still important to preserve. A biologist wouldn’t study just one meadow lark to understand everything about the entire species, and a paleontologist wouldn’t want to study just one Pteranodon fossil to try to understand everything about pterosaurs. So, scientists collect many specimens – including partial and fragmented specimens – hoping to form as accurate a picture as possible about these animals and how they lived. Additionally, we use these specimens to train students of all ages in the process of science, we show them off during tours, and we share relevant information and images online for public access.
Of course, the easiest way for the public to learn about our specimen collections is through interpretive exhibits. Visitors not only see what ancient and modern plants, animals, and ecosystems look like, but can learn about the research done on those organisms. Exhibits are a great way for scientists to share their research. Pictured here is a Niobrarasaurus dinosaur skeleton being laid out for a new exhibit being constructed at the Sternberg Museum. By designing this exhibit, we have the opportunity to showcase specimens that have never been on display or have not been on display recently. And we are also able to share new research undertaken by FHSU students, faculty, and staff on some of our fantastic fossils.
Congratulations to Paleontology Collections Manager Christina Byrd for her award-winning photo! Representing the Paleontology Department, Christina entered photos from her work at the Museum in the American Geosciences Institute’s “Life as a Geoscientist” photo contest. The photo titled “Bringing fossils into the digital age” won first place in the “Data Visualization” category. It shows two Fort Hays Department of Geosciences students photographing a fossil clam shell encrusted with oysters. Graduate student Amber Michels (left) and undergraduate student Hannah Horinek (right) both work on a National Science Foundation grant awarded to the Sternberg Museum to digitize Cretaceous fossils; images and data collected over the course of this project will be available online. Cheers to Christina, Amber, Hannah, and the five other students working on data digitization and visualization in the paleontology collection!
To celebrate National Fossil Day (October 11, 2017), the National Science Foundation featured four paleontologists on its social media accounts and on Science360 Radio. Dr. Laura Wilson was one of the featured scientists. Her and Sternberg Museum Adjunct Curator Mike Everhart’s recent Science Friday segment was featured on the air, and pictures of her research were shared across social media platforms. Laura currently has two National Science Foundation grants to support the paleontology collections at the Sternberg Museum.
NSF Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/US.NSF/posts/10155566238757900
NSF Twitter: https://twitter.com/NSF/status/919190210910531585
NSF tumblr: http://nationalsciencefoundation.tumblr.com/post/166433503138/fossils-hunting-in-the-kansas-sea
NSF Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nsfgov/
Two images include fieldwork with Quinter High School students in the Late Cretaceous Smoky Hill Chalk (Niobrara Formation) in Western Kansas. Laura and students from the Advanced Biology class (along with their teacher) excavated a mosasaur fossil in the spring of 2014. The third image is of the internal bone structure of a Hesperornis leg bone from the Arctic.
We can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Fossil Day than with Fort Hays State University paleontologists!
Though it may not be news to paleontologists and visitors to the Sternberg Museum, not everyone in the country knows that Kansas was covered by an ocean 85 million years. To address this, Sternberg paleontologists had the opportunity to take to a national stage and talk about the ocean that covered Kansas in the Cretaceous. On Friday September 15th, Chief Curator/Curator of Paleontology Dr. Laura Wilson and Adjunct Curator of Paleontology Mike Everhart appeared on public radio’s Science Friday. The Saturday before, they recorded their segment at Wichita’s Orpheum Theater in front of a sold-out studio audience. Fielding question from host Ira Flatow and the audience, Laura and Mike discussed the paleontological history of Kansas, the Western Interior Seaway that covered Kansas, and the extinct animals that filled the sea. They also got to touch on subjects close to their research. Mike has studied many of the vertebrate groups that lived in this Cretaceous Seaway and is known as a mosasaur expert. Laura studies the seabirds that lived in the Seaway and works on putting together the ancient ecosystem structure. If you missed it, the segment is available online.
Every year, paleontologists from around the world converge on an unexpecting city to share research, make new connections, and unite with old friends at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) annual meeting. This year’s meeting was in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) – a stronghold in Canadian paleontology. Six current students and two recent alumni from the Department of Geosciences at FHSU joined our Curator of Paleontology Dr. Laura Wilson at the conference. Like most professional conferences, the SVP annual meeting is filled with poster presentations and technical talks, workshops and field trips, exhibitors showcasing the latest technologies and resources, and roundtables and luncheons for subsets of the society tackling specific issues (for example: the Women in Paleontology luncheon and student roundtable).
New research always takes the limelight, and most of the FHSU representatives in attendance presented original research. We have been working hard to make the Sternberg Museum a leader in Western Interior Seaway research. The Western Interior Seaway is the ocean that covered Kansas and most of the interior of North America from roughly 100 to 66 million years ago – these are the fossils that fill our exhibit galleries, education collections, and research collections. Presentations by Sternberg Museum students and staff showcased research on marine animals from the Seaway. Third year graduate student Cyrus Green presented research on the internal bone structure of Clidastes mosasaurs; second year graduate students Pike Holman and Amber Michels presented on determining age in Dolichorhynchops pliosaurs and determine the trophic ecology of Cretaceous fishes, respectively. Recent alumni Kris Super and Logan King presented on the smallest specimen of Xiphactinus fish ever reported, and Curator Laura Wilson presented on what we know about the ecology of the Seaway based on seabird fossils.
The other highlight of the conference is catching up with old friends and making new acquaintances. Fort Hays State University students and alumni in attendance always make the time to get together for lunch and take a photo. The 2017 meeting was no exception!