Feb
08
2010

Measuring the SMM camptosaurus: SMM paleo lab volunteers Becky Huset (left) and Neva Key consult over their ornithischian limb bone measurements for the Open Dinosaur Project.
Measuring the SMM camptosaurus: SMM paleo lab volunteers Becky Huset (left) and Neva Key consult over their ornithischian limb bone measurements for the Open Dinosaur Project.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The Open Dinosaur Project (ODP) allows anyone with an interest in paleontology, and access to skeletal information, scientific publications, or museum skeletons themselves the opportunity to be part of the compilation of an actual scientific paper. Paleontologists Andy Farke, Matt Wedel, and Mike Taylor make up the core ODP team, but only the core. The rest of the team is made up of individuals around the world. The hope is to put together a comprehensive database of information about the dimensions of limb bones (legs, arms, hands, and feet) of ornithischian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs in museums around the world with a goal of “investigating the evolution of locomotion and limb proportions in this group.”

“The Open Dinosaur Project fits very comfortably into that loose coalition of ideas: we’re trying to democratize science, open up data, blog the process, and make sure that the final publications are freely available to the world,” Mike Taylor said during a recent interview with the Brazilian science publication Ciência Hoje On-line.

Putting tape to toe: SMM volunteer Becky Huset measures the metatarsals and phalanx of the musuem's camptosaurus for the Open Dinosaur Project.
Putting tape to toe: SMM volunteer Becky Huset measures the metatarsals and phalanx of the musuem's camptosaurus for the Open Dinosaur Project.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Two volunteers here at the Science Museum of Minnesota got themselves involved with this unique study. Becky Huset and Neva Key both work in the SMM paleo lab, usually hunched over fossils extracting them from rocks or preparing them for display. But recently, the two have spent time out on gallery floor measuring the limbs of some of the museum’s mounted ornithischian dinosaurs.

“We did the Camptosaurus and some cast bones from Stegosaurus from the collections,” Becky said. She added that measurements of the SMM Triceratops were already listed.

Why only ornithischian dinosaurs? Part of the reason was to keep the study somewhat manageable. But ornithischian dinosaurs also have an interesting evolution of locomotion that to date hasn’t been studied in depth. The dinosaur order radiated from a two-legged (biped) form into at least three different four-legged (quadruped) forms including armored dinosaurs (e.g. stegosaurs and ankylosaurs), ceratopsians (e.g. triceratops and chasmosaurus), and various ornithopod types, (e.g. camptosaurs, hadrosaurs, and iguanodontids).

How to measure a scapcoracoid: One of several measuring aids available to project volunteers from the Open Dinosaur Project website.
How to measure a scapcoracoid: One of several measuring aids available to project volunteers from the Open Dinosaur Project website.Courtesy Open Dinosaur Project
In order to aid team members in gathering the proper information, instructions, templates, and other documents are available on the Open Dinosaur Project website. Diagrams explaining ornithischian limb osteology – including each bone’s proper name - are also on the site, as are illustrations showing exactly how to properly measure the dimensions of different bones. For those involved who don’t have access to museum specimens or material in other collections, the team leaders provide lists where prior publications with skeletal information can be accessed and mined for the study.

By last week, the Open Dinosaur Project had acquired nearly 1600 entries, but the results of all this work remain to be seen. The compiled data will be analyzed over the next couple months, and Farke, Wedel, and Taylor plan to begin writing the paper this spring. When completed the study will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. If all goes as planned, after publication, the lead researchers will make all the data available online for future studies.

Now that their data has been entered on the ODP site, SMM volunteers Huset and Key will have their names included as contributors, and eligible to be included in the resulting paper.

"We wanted to get the general public excited about and involved in doing “real” science, working in cooperation with paleontologists. There is a great interest out there in paleontology, particularly dinosaurs. It’s amazing how many non-paleontologists read the technical literature! I thought, “Why not harness this enthusiasm?” There have been many people waiting for this sort of opportunity (even if they didn’t know it), and I think the response speaks for itself." – Andy Farke in Ciência Hoje On-line

Becky Huset enjoyed being involved with the project. “[It] sounded like a good idea,” she said. “I like having knowledge that is freely available to everyone, and it was a good way to contribute to a paper. Do some "real" work."

LINKS

Open Dinosaur Project website
Wedel’s & Taylor’s dino-related blog
More about Ornithischian dinosaurs
Osteology (the scientific study of bones)

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