The study of dinosaurs and the modern world

Our guest blogger today is Dorothy, who runs the blog site Dinosaur Home. Though she originally majored in philosophy working with computers, her true loves are natural history and paleontology. Here, she’s combined all of her talents to share a post on the importance of dinosaur research for the modern world.

Being fascinated by dinosaurs, I’ve often heard the question “why are creatures that disappeared from the earth so long ago are the center of so much research.”
I believe that the answer (at least as I see it) might be surprisingly simple and I’ve decided to focus on two aspects.

1. Researching prehistoric creatures such as the dinosaurs is a really excellent way to learn how evolution works. One of the best ways to study evolution is to have as long a timeline as possible. A researcher today would need to examine and study a species over many years to see how they change and adapt to changing circumstances. When we examine fossils from millions of years ago we are given a rare glimpse into the dinosaur’s existence and even the rare opportunity to see what they have evolved into – birds. Without the study of prehistoric creatures it wouldn’t be possible to get the whole picture of the changes of biology over a really long time.

2. Research into the story of the disappearance of the dinosaurs is actually a very relevant one. The changing climate that we experience today might be something that reminds researchers of other cycles of climate changes years ago. Whether it was an asteroid, climate changes, changes in the earth’s gravity or any of the other explanations that have been offered, there is a direct relevance to our lives today.

 Sometimes if we want to know what is possible, or what might happen, we have to learn about what has already happened. It is an important scientific goal to investigate various possibilities. If Antarctica was once a snow free continent it might be snow free again. If there are dinosaur fossils found on different continents with similar heritages it certainly helps us imagine the globe very differently than its modern structure.

People all over the world have the tendency to imagine the reality they know as the only possibility; it is thanks to the study of dinosaurs and natural history that we can open our minds to very different realities.  The less knowledge we have, the more reluctant we are to admit changes that are happening and that will continue to happen. The Buddhist call it the “recognition of impermanence” and attribute a lot of importance to it. They believe it is vital to the process of becoming more aware of the impermanence of ourselves, and helps us become less ego centered. In fact the whole theory of there being no self says just that “we are all just a flow of events and changes that never starts and never ends.” It works for the whole picture as well.

Few subjects in the Earth sciences are as fascinating to the public as dinosaurs. The study of dinosaurs stretches our imaginations, gives us new perspectives on time and space, and invites us to discover worlds very different from our modern Earth.
From a scientific viewpoint, however, the study of dinosaurs is important both for understanding the causes of past major extinctions of land animals and for understanding the changes in biological diversity caused by previous geological and climatic changes of the Earth. These changes are still occurring today. A wealth of new information about dinosaurs has been learned over the past 30 years, and science’s old ideas of dinosaurs as slow, clumsy beasts have been totally turned around. Although much has been discovered recently about dinosaurs, there is still a great deal more to learn about our planet and its ancient inhabitants.

For more from Dorothy, visit her blog, Dinosaur Home. For more on paleontology, check out:Dimetrodon sighting!
Roberta, the other brachylophosaur
What’s it like to discover a dinosaur?

Take a step back in time with The Chromatics

he-man2
Creative Commons License photo credit: Eurritimia

I am a child of the Eighties. We are the children who played with Lego Building Blocks when they were just square building blocks and gave Malibu Barbie crew cuts with safety scissors that never really cut. We collected Garbage Pail Kids, Cabbage Patch Kids, My Little Ponies, Hot Wheels, He-Man action figures and thought She-Ra looked just a bit like I would when I got older. Big Wheels and bicycles with streamers were the way to go and sidewalk chalk was all you needed to build a city.

Ghostbusters Squircle
Creative Commons License photo credit: Xurble

With your pink portable tape player, Debbie Gibson sang backup to you and everyone wanted a skirt like the Material Girl and a glove just like Michael Jackson’s. Today, we are the ones who sing along with Bruce Springsteen and The Bangles perfectly. We recite lines with the Ghostbusters and still look to the Goonies for a great adventure. We flip through TV stations and stop at the A Team, Knight Rider and Fame. We laugh with the Cosby show, Family Ties, Punky Brewster, and Different Strokes (“What you talkin’ bout Willis?“) We are the ones who read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Beverly Cleary, Richard Scary and the Electric Company.

Frienship bracelets were ties you couldn’t break and friendship pins went on shoes – preferably hightop Velcro Reebox – and pegged jeans were in, as were Units belts, layered socks, jean jackets, charm necklaces, side ponytails and just tails. Rave was a girl’s best friend; braces with rubber bands made you cool. The backdoor was always open and Mom only served red Kool-Aid to the neighborhood kids.

Entertainment was cheap and lasted for hours…

Come and relive the Eighties this Friday night from 6 – 10pm for just $15/ticket as we get radical with The Chromatics, cool out in the IMAX, explore the rocks and geodes of Geopalooza, and be the boss on the dance floor. Don’t miss out on the best dance party in Houston with a ticket price straight out of another decade.  Mixers, Elixirs, & IMAX is the Jam!

Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.31.08)

Countdown clock of Beijing 2008
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gene Zhang

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

2,100 years ago, the ancient Greeks used an astronomical calculator to set the date of the Olympic Games.

Well, they were looking for human remains…Puerto Rican police found bones and possible artifacts from a colonial-era ship.

George Jetson, here we come – NASA is offering $300,000 to the first person who develops a Personal Air Vehicle. And – it’s got to be green.

How can you tell your pants are really fancy? They tell you whether you might fall soon.

The Chronicle has a new evolution blogEvo.Sphere.

It has absolutely nothing to do with science (well, he did teach computer tech) but if you haven’t seen Randy Pauch’s The Last Lecture – you really should.

***UPDATE: Science won’t be sleeping next week, but I will be. Vacation! Have no fear, though – we’ve got lots of other very cool posts planned for all of next week, so please check back – and as always, leave us a comment to let us know what you think. SDS returns Aug. 11.

Coming Sept. 12: BODY WORLDS 2 & The Brain

In 2006, over a half million people took an extraordinary journey into the human body in BODY WORLDS 3. Today, we are thrilled to announce that an all-new BODY WORLDS exhibition will debut at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Sept. 12, 2008. Based on the latest discoveries in neuroscience, this new exhibition delves deep into one of the most mysterious – and most fascinating – organs in the human body: the brain.

Humans are unique among mammals chiefly because we have the capacity to contemplate ourselves – a capacity that stems directly from the human brain, the only organ that can examine itself. Inventor and anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens was inspired to utilize his Plastination technique to take visitors on a journey inside our minds to discover the functions and possibilities of this extraordinary organ. In his words:

“The brain is an amazing marvel of engineering. I wanted people to recognize what is known about this amazing gem inside our heads, and be awed by its possibilities and capacities.”

To Dr. von Hagens, the brain’s capacity for innovation is a source of wonder, informed by his own work in science: “I recall that first moment of clarity when seeing a specimen embedded in a polymer block, I wondered why the polymer was outside of the specimen, rather than inside the specimen, which would have allowed it to be stable and rigid, as well as easy to handle.”

This moment of clarity – like many others before it and many others sure to come after – resulted in something extraordinary. And, the development of Plastination is just one example of the amazing innovations the brain makes possible. Nanotechnology, robotics, genetics, pharmacology, alternative energy technology and on and on – it’s impossible to name all of the revolutionary new directions in which our brains are taking us into the future.

Join us this fall to discover how our brains work – and perhaps leave inspired to put yours to better use.

Below, check out a video preview of Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS 2 & The BRAIN – Our Three Pound Gem: The Original Exhibition of Real Human Bodies:


UPDATE: Curious about Plastination? Check out this Q&A with Dr. Gunther von Hagens.

Images and Video: © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany, www.bodyworlds.com. 2001 – 2008. All rights reserved.