Dispatches From South Dakota: Willie The Dimetrodon [Day 3]

Today’s post is from Michele Whisenhunt, a volunteer on the Museum’s paleontology team. She’ll be sharing photos with us while the team is at the Black Hills Institute, prepping Willie, the Dimetrodon the team discovered. Missed the team’s first dispatches? Day 1 and Day 2

It’s a beautiful and busy day in the neighborhood of Hill City, South Dakota

When we arrive to the prep lab there is activity everywhere with the Black Hills employees working on our new saber tooth cats, Xenosmilus and Smiledon some of the most fearless to roam. It is interesting to work side by side with the best in their field specializing in the finest fossils and fossil replicas.

Dr. Bakker instructs Mary Anderson, after finding the floating rib, to clean the rib bone and she uncovers a bite mark. Hallelujah, hallelujah! Everyone gathers to see the bite under the microscope.

Uncovered Bite Mark
Uncovered Bite Mark.

Kathy Zoehfeld has uncovered unknown rib in her skull jacket and she will continue working to uncover the pieces of skull.

Bernt Pettersson and Pat Greenfield faithfully work on the Judy Block, a huge Trimerorhachis block, named after the owner Judy, with Bernt uncovering a jaw with skin inside the lower jaw.

Marce Stayer and I are carefully pulling anterior and posterior spines. We’ll keep you posted daily as the work progresses.

Celebrate The International Year Of Chemistry!

Today’s post is by Amy Potts, Director of Adult Education at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. 

Declared by the United Nations, the International Year of Chemistry 2011 (IYC 2011) is a worldwide celebration of the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind with the goal of increasing public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, interest in chemistry among young people and enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry.

Under the unifying theme Chemistry—our life, our future, IYC 2011 initiated a range of interactive, entertaining and educational activities for all ages across the globe. Various events have been produced to demonstrate the value of chemistry in addressing the major issues of human society:  health, communications, food, water and energy.

Carbon Nanotube
Creative Commons License photo credit: ghutchis

As society has progressed, the demand for energy and the access to it has increased. 

For the most part, the world relies on the burning of fossil fuel for the production of energy. The way in which this is done must change in order to produce a supply that meets the demand in the future.  As modern technology makes more and more possible, the sociological discourse becomes more and more complex, while at the same time the circumstances become more and more urgent.

To address these issues, the T. T. Chao Symposium on Innovation, an annual event hosted in Houston by the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), will comprise the energy component of the United States IYC 2011 program. The Symposium is made up of three events October 25-26, 2011 hosted at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) and the BioScience Research Collaborative.

October 25th, Nobel Prize-winner Yuan Lee (chemistry 1986) will hold a conversation with CHF president Tom Tritton.  This conversation will explore Dr. Lee’s lifetime of accomplishment and probe into his current passion for energy alternatives.

This “History Live” conversation will be held at HMNS. 

It will be open to the public and recorded for subsequent use by a broader audience. Get tickets and information.

The following morning, Wednesday, October 26, again at HMNS, Dr. Yuan Lee will be joined by Dr. Nate Lewis of Cal Tech and Dr. Emil Jacobs of Exxon Mobil in a panel to engage about 300 high school students from across the Houston area in a Student – Laureate Forum on Energy Alternatives.  The panel will be moderated by New York Times journalist Andrew Revkin.  Schools participating in the forum are Harmony School of Science High School, Hastings High School, Lamar High School, St. John’s School, Strake Jesuit High School, and Willowridge High School.

On Wednesday evening, October 26, the venue will shift to the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) at Rice University where Dr. Jacobs of ExxonMobil and Dr. Craig Venter of Synthetic Genomics will discuss their alliance to research and develop biofuels from photosynthetic algae. This will be another History Live conversation with Tom Tritton. BRC is an innovative space where scientists and educators from Rice University and other Texas Medical Center institutions work together to perform leading research that encompasses a wide range of disciplines from chemistry to bioengineering and focuses largely on improving human wellness through science. Get tickets and information.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was selected by CHF as a venue for the Chao Symposium because of the Museum’s focus on science education, close relationships to the schools in the Houston area, and the excellence of the Welch Chemistry Hall and Wiess Energy Hall in demonstrating the importance of chemistry and energy in the world. HMNS is a proud participant in the IYC2011 celebration and is also co-sponsoring a lecture series with Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies starting October 18 and the popular family event Chemotion with the American Chemical Society on November 15.

Join us for these International Year of Chemistry Events at HMNS

Distinguished Lectures

Smart Water: New Technologies to Conserve Natural Resources
David Horsup, Ph.D., Chemical Engineer
Tuesday, October 18, 6:30 p.m.

Nobel Laureate Looks to Energy Alternatives
Yuan Lee, Ph.D.
Tuesday, October 25, 6:30 p.m.

Scientific Discoveries Improving Healthcare
Daniel D. Carson, Ph.D., Cindy Farach-Carson, Ph.D., John T. McDevitt, Ph.D.,
Tuesday, November 1, 6:30 p.m.

Family Festival
Tuesday, November 15, 6 – 8 p.m.
Free Admission

Cultural Feast
Shaken or Stirred? The Chemistry and History of the Cocktail
Hosted at Brennan’s
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dispatches From South Dakota: Willie The Dimetrodon [Day 2]

Today’s post is from Michele Whisenhunt, a volunteer on the Museum’s paleontology team. She’ll be sharing photos with us while the team is at the Black Hills Institute, prepping Willie, the Dimetrodon the team discovered. Missed the team’s first dispatch from the field? Check it out!

While excavating Willie, the HMNS paleo team also discovered several small pockets of unidentified bones.  They were jacketed and sent along with Willie to the Black Hills Institute. 

Dr. Bakker inspecting Willie
Dr. Bakker inspecting Willie.

Today, volunteers Mary Anderson and Kathy Zoehfeld were each given one of these small presents to open.  Dr. Bakker was fairly sure Kathy’s jacket held a Secodontosaurus jaw.  A Secodontosaurus is a Permian Pelycosaur. He has a fin like Willie, but is smaller in size.  He has a longer snout and a narrower skull than Willie as well.

Kathy carefully started digging into her jacket, unsure exactly where this delicate jaw was located.  Layer by layer she picked away at the rock matrix, finding nothing.  Finally she found the tip of the jaw, then the first few teeth. 

Fossil Prep Work
Kathy doing some fossil prep work in the lab.

Unlike Kathy’s jacket, Mary’s jacket was a complete unknown.  The jacket was labeled “Willie’s feet”, but Dr. Bakker did not remember anyone finding Dimetrodon feet.  Mary started digging…and digging…and digging.  We started joking that the team had made an empty jacket as a joke.  And she kept digging…FINALLY, she found bone!  She called Dr. Bakker over.  He looked at the edge of bone and suddenly burst out OH! OH! I don’t know….She kept exposing more bone and then Dr. Bakker knew…it was not even close to being Willie’s feet—it was a Secodontosaurus vertebrae and neural spine.  A match to Kathy’s animal?  We will have to wait and see.

Willie's Let in a Jacket
One of Willie’s feet? 

Live From The Field: Willie The Dimetrodon

Today’s post is from Michele Whisenhunt, a volunteer on the Museum’s paleontology team. She’ll be sharing photos with us while the team is at the Black Hills Institute, prepping Willie, the Dimetrodon the team discovered.

"Twisted Willi"

Was this in his life or after death?

Did these spines twist while Willi was alive or was it the geologic pressure that caused the twisting?

Was Willi the James Dean of his time? Would this good-looking fin catch a girl or would it keep him warm on cold nights?

These are the things we ponder in the prep lab of Black Hills Institute of Hill City, South Dakota as we explore the twisted spines of this Dimetrodon. The fin, a fixed sail of nerves, blood vessels, and skin that would have controlled body temperature, attract a mate, or intimidate other males.

The evidence shows that Willi was “twisted” in his lifetime. The sediment where Willi was found shows the water was slow moving and therefore would not have caused this deformity after he died.

Also, the fact that his skeleton is so well articulated it shows we are seeing him in his true form.

Tomorrow, we dig into two new jackets found near Willi both of which contain the bones of other species.

"Twisted Willi"