Keeping it real: The benefits of paleontological advisory work

[post by Jordan Mallon]

One of the benefits to being a vertebrate palaeontologist is the opportunity to serve as scientific advisor to all sorts of cool projects. In my still green career, I’ve been lucky enough to advise on various museum exhibits and events, video games and, most recently, stamps. These projects have all had their own challenges (usually conflicts arising between what’s accurate and what’s feasible) but they nevertheless continue to be rewarding experiences. I thought I’d spend the rest of this post sharing what I like about advisory work.

A chance to promote the latest advances
    Vertebrate palaeontology is accelerating faster than ever with the help of new technologies and fossil finds. It’s always fun to talk about these latest advances with my colleagues over coffee (or beer!), but advisory work lets me spread the word more broadly to the general public. I’ve recently advised for a videogame called Dinosaur Island where the player is meant to maintain a “digital terrarium” in which a sustainable balance is sought between species and resources to prevent ecosystem collapse. The dinosaurs are fully customizable to accommodate the newest palaeontological findings. For example, there’s an option to enable cannibalism in Tyrannosaurus rex (based on a recent paper), and dinosaur growth rates can likewise be modified according to the latest results. The game developer, Ezra Sidran, has really strived for scientific accuracy, and has been a real pleasure to work with.
Dinosaur Island Image

A chance to correct old ideas
Palaeontologists have known for some time now that some dinosaurs were feathered, but the image of fuzzy theropods has had a difficult time penetrating the common psyche (no thanks, in part, to an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster). I recently teamed up with Canada Post to design a new stamp series featuring dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, and seized the opportunity to highlight some feathered forms, including the ostrich-mimic Ornithomimus edmontonicus. Even the T. rex sported a light pelage over most of its hide. Kudos to stamp artist Julius Csotonyi for helping me set the record straight.
Canada Post Dinosaur Stamps

A chance to share something you love
    I mostly study Canadian dinosaurs, and have always loved reading about the adventures of the early Canadian dinosaur hunters in the badlands of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Where I work at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, we recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of our fossil gallery. In commemoration, I was invited to help design a series of displays featuring photos of the gallery throughout the years, which served to highlight the long association of the Museum with dinosaur palaeontology. Sifting through our archives of old photos was a blast, and I really appreciated the chance to share this rich history with our visitors.
    I likewise hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. I’d advise you to stop reading… now.

Posted: 6/11/2015 1:43:50 AM by host | with 0 comments
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