Earth, Life and Times
Since spring break, Earth Life and Time has remained as exciting as ever. Students have listened to several enlightening speakers, visited western Maryland to collect fossils, and even helped in the 2-day excavation of an extinct species of whale fossils. The guest speakers have lectured on several topics including museology, or the study of museums, the use of computer scanning in dinosaur re-creation, and the rules of collecting fossils. Perhaps most importantly, students have learned the concept that although many animals that have been extinct for thousands of years, there is still much we can learn from studying them. Paleontology is a constantly changing field of study that will continue to change with the aid of new technology.
May 5th and 6th, ELT Scholars took their final field trip of the year to the Chesapeake Bay for the purpose of excavating a site on private property near Chesapeake Beach. Dr. Merck had been previously contacted by e-mail about what was presumed to be whale bone that was being eroded out of the cliff. The observer feared that the specimen would be lost to the bay if it were not carefully removed from the cliff. Dr. Merck and Dr. Holtz saw the trip as an exciting opportunity for the students to actually experience the field aspect of paleontology that they had referred to in their lectures.
Over the course of the weekend, two groups of students successfully excavated the fossilized whale skeleton. The reason the job took so long was that Dr. Merck wanted to be sure the specimen was carefully removed and transported back to campus without being damaged. Both he and Holtz commented that the specimen might be a member of a new species. Therefore, the students were exposed to the process of a true archaeological dig, in which many precautions must be taken to ensure the care of the specimen. First, many pictures were taken of the specimen in its original orientation. Then, the students were instructed to use delicate tools when removing the matrix that was close to the fossils. After enough clay had been carefully brushed away, the fossils were resting on a precarious dirt pedestal. The top and sides could then be plastered. First toilet paper was applied to protect the specimen from the plaster. Then strips of plaster were wrapped around the fossils. When the plaster dried, the specimens were carefully separated from their pedestals and transported back to the school.
The fossil will most likely be used next year as a practicum course for students who so choose.
On Saturday April 28, ELT freshmen and sophomores participated in the 4th annual charity softball tournament as part of Maryland Day 2001. Decked out in cool turquoise t-shirts, the students showed their team spirit by turning their shirts backwards and labeling each teammate with a creative nickname and special number. As if this combo wasn't enough to bring sure victory, the team had what some hailed as "the secret weapon"-the associate director of the program. Dr. Merck showed up to lend his support to the charitable cause. He even got a t-shirt labeled "Merck-Dawg" out of the deal.
The sophomores were glad that enough students came out for the ELT team. Most of the players were sophomores. The best play of the game, however, was made by a freshman. Rob Swartz, a first-year ELT student, set the team on fire at the start when he hit a home run off the very first pitch of the game. Unfortunately, the team was unable to rally near the end of the game after the Arts team scored several runs. Despite ELT's losses to the Arts team and the Advocates for Children team, the day itself was not a loss by any means. The weather was gorgeous and the event was supporting a charitable cause. ELT's long-range goal is to win the tournament next year. If the spirit of the team is any indication of its potential, then the group stands a good chance of making this happen.
As part of the ELT speaker series, Dr. Ralph Chapman of the National Museum of Natural History joined us to talk about an exciting project he and his colleagues were working on: digitizing a triceratops. The project came about after the NMNH had decided to enlarge the skull of the triceratops to match the size of the body. After taking millions of data points, the data was sent off to a milling plant where a new, 20% larger triceratops skull was formed and sent back to NMNH.
After fully scanning in the triceratops, scientists at NMNH have been able to make high-resolution computerized videos of the dinosaur, giving a better understanding of how the bones would have worked together during the end of the Mesozoic Era.
After the lecture, Dr. Chapman, Dr. Holtz, Dr. Merck, and several ELT students were treated to dinner at Adele's, an upscale campus restaurant.
Dr. Michael Brett-Surman from the Smithsonian Institute presented a lecture on museology to the ELT colloquium. His presentation helped the students understand that there is more to museums than what can be seen on a visit. The American Association of Museums sets guidelines that all major museums must comply with. The regulation is not just an act of a controlling government. The guidelines help ensure the safety and preservation of valuable cultural resources. Once the artifacts in a museum are damaged or destroyed, they are lost to science forever. Therefore, establishing methods for the protection of these precious resources is a necessary task. In addition, Dr. Brett-Surman stressed the importance of keeping up with the latest technology so that information about the artifacts can survive changes in time. Dr. Brett-Surman's lecture made it possible for ELT students to appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the management of a museum.
Other Guest Speakers
Editor of Science Magazine
NMNH Exhibit Director