Sam Lam: Legacy Camper

Once in a while, the Houston Museum of Natural Science Xplorations program gives children so much enthusiasm about science that they never really leave the museum. Sam Lam discovered the museum as a child with the Xplorations program, and has since never missed a summer at the museum. She now teaches some of the same summer camps she enjoyed when she was a kid.

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HMNS: When did you start attending summer camp here? And why?

SL: I started attending camps at HMNS when I was 6 or 7 years old, around 1998. My mom worked downtown and decided to look into sending us to camp at HMNS. After just one week, I was hooked. From that point on, I kept pestering her to sign me up for Xplorations year after year. 

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HMNS: What was your favorite class? What made it your favorite? Any stories from that class?

SL: My favorite class was Wizard Science Academy. Reading Harry Potter was a big part of my childhood, so it was very exciting to be able to attend a summer camp that incorporated science with a Hogwarts twist! I still remember dissecting an owl pellet and being convinced it was from Hedwig. I remember having Nicole Temple as my teacher and being so excited that she secretly let me switch out of the house that the Sorting Hat chose for me into the house of my choice.

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HMNS: What is your favorite memory from summer camp?

SL: I took a camp called, “Thrills, Chills, and Disasters” that talked all about physics and the science behind amusement parks. As an end-of-the-week field trip that wrapped up all our learning, we were able to go to Astroworld to see the physics in action. I loved going around and riding rides with all of my camp friends. It was such a unique opportunity that I am lucky to have had!

HMNS: If you could go back to Xplorations Summer Camp for one week this summer, what class would you take and why?

SL: I would definitely sign up for Bedazzled! I have had the best time teaching that camp for the past few years. I think the best part of Bedazzled is the Spa Day on Friday when campers get to dress as comfortable as they’d like and pamper themselves for the day. A day with magnetic nail polish and a nice, relaxing mud mask? Sign me up! 

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HMNS: What made you decide to come back and work at HMNS?

SL: When I was a camper, the Xplorations staff was always so enthusiastic and fun to be around. Because of them, I never wanted to leave camp when my mom came to pick me up. I wanted to keep the fun going and stay with them. When I officially “aged-out” of camp, I knew I wanted to come back and make camp a positive experience for others, just like the staff did for me.

HMNS: How did the Xplorations Summer Camp influence your life?

SL: During the summers, HMNS has been my second home for as long as I can remember and the people I have met there have become like another family to me. Some of the best friendships I have are with people I have met through Xplorations. Thanks to Xplorations and its amazing staff, I was able to meet and teach with fantastic teachers who inspired me to become a teacher myself. The best part of Xplorations Summer Camp is the people you meet—from the awesome campers, to the fun-loving TA’s and teachers, and the always cheerful and helpful education staff. My best memories from camp are because of them.

Breaking Bone-Head News!

Recently, your HMNS curator of paleontology, Dr. Bob, along with some friends, announced a new bone-head dinosaur, a family with the technical name “pachycephalosaurid,” meaning “thick-headed reptile,” or “pachy” for short.

Our new pachy was based on a complete skull and some neck bones found by talented and dedicated amateurs and donated to the Indianapolis Childrens Museum. Since the new beast looked like a medieval dragon, we named the genus Dracorex, meaning “Dragon King.”

Most exciting was the fact that the skull came with several neck bones. Neck bones from pachys are very rare and the butting abilities of these dinos has been hotly debated. The Dracorex neck  had special anti-twist joints that would let the critter butt, shove and bang heads.

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 Two Dracorexes butt heads
to score points in the mating game

We named the species in honor of J. K. Rowling’s magical academy, Hogwarts. So the full names is: Dracorex hogwartsia.  Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

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Dracorex hogwartsia at the
Indianapolis Childrens Museum

The new bone-head  dinosaur was way different from any other bone-headed dinosaur discovered so far. Unlike Pachycephalosaurus, Stegoceras and their kin, Dracorex had no dome of bone in the middle of the forehead but had, instead, all sorts of knobs surrounding two huge holes. Unlike Stygimoloch, another famous bone-head, Dracorex had big holes and horns that were shorter.

Another difference – so we thought – were the upper nipper teeth, the incisors in the premaxillary bone. Dracorex didn’t have any. Most other bone-heads did.

Well……we were wrong.

True, the Dracorex skull as preserved had no upper nipper teeth and no sockets for such teeth either. This condition wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Many advanced plant-eaters lose their upper nippers. Cows and antelope have no upper incisors. Instead they have a tough pad in the roof of the mouth – the lower nippers bite into the pad when the critter tears off a tuft of grass.

Therefore we concluded that our bone-head was doing the cow-thing in its snout.

But Victor Porter, head of the lab at the Indianapolis Museum, had cleaned a peculiar tooth found with the skull. It was bigger than the back teeth, more triangular, and didn’t show wear from lower teeth.

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 Upper nipper of Dracorex hogwartsia
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Snout of Dracorex hogwartsia
with upper incisors restored

Our colleague and friend Mike Triebold of the Dinosaur Resource Center showed other new skulls – and they had just this type of teeth in the snout tip. (Mike has the most important pachy collection in the country). There’s no doubt: Dracorex hogwartsia  had big upper incisors too.  Our bone-head must have used its formidable nippers to bite off bits of vegetation – and to bite other Dracorexes when the dinos got frisky.

Why didn’t the Indianapolis skull preserve the holes for the deep roots of the nippers? The sockets must have been huge, since the root on the tooth was very long. We don’t know.  After death, something or someone broke the bone along the front of the mouth, destroying the sockets and loosening all the front teeth.

In paleontology, there always surprises…..more on Butt-Heads again soon.