Now You Can Watch Paleontologists Work on Real Dinosaur Fossils at HMNS

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Staff Photographer

A new feature at the paleontologist lab at the Houston Museum of Natural Science will allow patrons to see the ongoing work being done to preserve prehistoric dinosaur fossils.

Opening to the public on Sept. 1, the Morian Hall of Paleontology's Fossil Preparation Laboratory will give dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages a glimpse into the daily work of the museum's team of volunteer paleontologists as they clean and sort fossils.

There will also be an intercom system for patrons to chat with the scientists or ask questions. Patrons can't actually get up close and personal with the fragile work being done so this is the next best thing.

David Temple, associate curator of paleontology at the museum, said the new window allows patrons to see the work that goes into the preparation of the exhibits. He says it's a little like a TV studio inside the museum.

"The public can see every bit of a paleontologists' daily work," Temple said. "We do all kinds of prep work from gently chipping away rock from fossils to even the mounting of fossils."

Fossils are also being scanned in the lab, using 3-D printing and scanning technology which will allow other institutions to download the file and print them in their own labs, "sharing" fossils with other paleontologists from long distances.

With the proliferation of 3-D scanning even regular people can print out dinosaur fossils for their own research.

"Virtually everything we are doing in here will help other paleontologists," Temple added. "We are creating teaching opportunities within the paleontology community and for prospective paleontologists."

Temple said that along with giving patrons a look at the fossils in the inventory at HMNS, they will also see the hard work that goes into being a paleontologist. In many ways paleontology is the first taste that many people get of tangible science.

"Paleontology is a passion but it's hard to get a job and you don't always make a lot of money," Temple said. "What people will see here is people truly motivated by science and curiosity."

Volunteers can sign up through HMNS' volunteer program and specify that they want to work in the paleontology department. There are currently 75 volunteers of varying experience on staff working with fossils.

The window at the paleontology lab will be open every day at 10 a.m. until around 5 p.m.

The $85 million Morian Hall of Paleontology, opened in 2012, features a two-stories-tall Tyrannosaurus rex, along with other eye-popping displays that have made the hall a must-see for locals and tourists alike. It also makes one heck of a party space after hours.