Friday, 8 July 2011

How to use dinosaurs: Jurassic CSI

Jurassic CSI is transmitted for the first time in the USA tonight on the National Geographic Channel. This is one of six episodes that follows my team and I around the globe, doing things to dinosaurs....well, at least their fossil remains. UPenn's Pennsylvania Gazette has already ran a fun story on the whole series...but I am hopeful the series is well-received by as wide an audience as possible....when it is completely aired later in August.

Laser-scanned dinosaur bones are fun, but nothing beats a bit of flesh...but where do you start?

Dinosaurs are often hailed as a scientific communication breakthrough, but is this really the case? Does the ‘and finally’ news story, usually based upon a recent publication, give credit to the years of painstaking work from discovery to final interpretation? The same can be said for many areas of science, where the object of the science becomes the story but not the science itself. This, in part, is the fault of both media and the scientists, given we must be more aware of how our science is translated into digestible chunks that can be understood by non-specialist audiences. Dinosaurs, however, are in a unique position. Apart from the fact that they are all dead (bar their descendants the birds) these animals have the potential to unlock many new areas of research to the public, given they provide a unique vehicle to deliver often complex science. 

Adding flesh to this sauropod dinosaur, but with a twist of 'giraffe' in the mix!

Whether it be particle physicists blasting fossils with high energy X-rays at a synchrotron (see earlier blog) or computational biologists making dinosaurs run in virtual environments (yes, we really do try!), it is clear these extinct giants have a role to play in engaging the public with more than just old fossil bones. 

The intense touch of synchrotron light reveals some of the secrets from Archaeopteryx 'In Living Color'

In the past ten years the science of palaeontology has been reinventing itself, looking to new disciplines to help solve very old questions. Now that palaeontology is such a diverse, interdisciplinary research area, it has successfully facilitated in the communication of multiple fields of science.  Interdisciplinary work with engineers, physiologists, geneticists, computational scientists, chemists (even paleontologists!) and many other disciplines provides avenues that might excite interest in what might be considered discrete or obscure areas of research.  Indeed, computational palaeontology is a splendid example of how the digitisation of specimens and subsequent computational analyses are both eye-catching and easy to distribute though modern media. The new series for National Geographic, Dinosaur CSI, was our take on this rapidly evolving field of science. I just hope that you all agree..... 

Computer graphics bring Archaeopteryx back to life in Jurassic CSI...albeit in a virtual world.

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