The past academic year was a banner one for student research at the Alf Museum. More Webb students than ever before participated in the museum program, where they experienced firsthand the wonders of scientific discovery. Even more importantly, our Webb students are sharing their experiences with the world, presenting at professional conferences and publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Let's take a look at some of this year’s amazing discoveries!
Our research program focuses on two major periods in earth's history: the Mesozoic (“Age of Dinosaurs”) and Cenozoic (“Age of Mammals”). Two student publications addressed fossils from the Mesozoic. The first was co-authored by Rachel Zheng ‘12, Gy-Su Kim ‘10, and me. Here, we presented the first comprehensive photographic atlas of the foot of a duck-billed dinosaur, which will be a useful reference for other paleontologists who want to identify isolated bones. A second, co-authored with Priyanka Patel ‘12, included the first detailed description of a bird bone from the Kaiparowits Formation of southern Utah. This rare fossil is important for better understanding the global evolution of birds during the Mesozoic. In addition to these publications, several of our students (including Lichi Dong ‘12, Megan Kilmer ‘12, Priyanka Patel ‘12, and Sam Woodward ‘12) also presented their work on Mesozoic fossils at professional conferences.
Dr. Don Lofgren (our museum director) heads up the research program focused on Cenozoic mammals. He and Raj Anand ‘10 published a paper on the most complete skull of Zyglolophodon (an extinct elephant) yet found in North America; this find was discovered by a Webb student in 1965 and only just now studied thoroughly! Abby Hess ‘12, Drew Silver ‘12, and Peter Liskanich ‘11 filled in more details on the extinct elephants of North America, both in a recently published paper as well as a conference presentation. Austin Plyley ‘12 presented his work on fossil snails, important for better understanding past environmental conditions in southern California.
All of these finds were 100% Webb. The fossils were collected in the field by Webb students, and then cleaned and studied by them. Additionally, our research program is noticed by the scientific community, in blog posts about Webb student work, acknowledgements in publications, and conference awards. There truly is no better way to understand the scientific process than to be immersed in it from start to finish. With our Summer Peccary Trips beginning in a few weeks, it’s virtually guaranteed that more amazing discoveries are on the horizon!