Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 3: Sarah and Shelley

Stegosaurus (cf. armatus) "Sarah" Sauriermuseum Aathal
Today I began photographing the most complete known specimen of Stegosaurus (cf. armatus) in the world. Not a bad way to spend an overcast Wednesday afternoon. I have certainly had worse Wednesdays than this one. The specimen nicknamed "Sarah" is incredibly well-preserved, and approximately 80% complete. It is remarkable to stand in front of a mount and realize that the bones in front of you were actually the bones of this creature in life. Our job as paleontologists is just to try to do justice to the unknown form of the animal,  which can prove quite the challenge, even with specimens as exquisitely preserved as Sarah. 
My workstation in the Stegosaur room
The Sauriermuseum Aathal has been very accommodating of my research, and I have set up camp in a corner of the stegosaur display room. My camera, giant calipers, computer, notebook, and a length of cord are the main tools in this phase of my study. The most challenging thing so far has been trying to master my new camera, which is a Nikon D3100 dslr, an early graduation gift from my generous parents. This camera has more buttons, settings, and lenses than any camera I have ever owned, and although I have worked with borrowed dslr cameras in the past, mastering the manual settings is a lesson in trial and error. I want the pictures I take on this trip to be worthy of being included as figures in a publication, so I am slowly learning the nuances of this new piece of equipment. 
Thus far I have been able to meet and interact with many people at the Sauriermuseum Aathal, including members of the museum staff and other visiting researchers. These interactions remind me that no scientist works in isolation, and even though my research trip was a solo undertaking, my work relies on and informs the work of others in my field. This is a gratifying feeling, and I think that inter-institutional research, be it collaborative or otherwise, fosters this sense of community among researchers. For this reason, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to different institutions for the sake of my studies, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, several regional museums in Northeastern China's Liaoning Province, and the Swiss museum I am visiting now.
The more time I spend in Switzerland, the more I notice some of the interesting quirks that make this country unique. For example, no country I have ever been to has ever seemed so fond of the rectangle in its modern architectural application.  There is also an interesting mix of modern buildings on the outskirts of the city, as well as grand old stone buildings in the old city, many of which feature colorful swaths of graffiti emblazoned on their facades.  My hotel has picked up on this trend and taken it to the next level, featuring special guest rooms decorated by local graffiti artists.  I do not happen to be staying in one of these rooms, but I think this is an interesting way to incorporate a not-so-glamorous aspect of the urban environment into the lives of visitors. The landscape surrounding Zurich is beautiful, and although I will not have a chance to visit the mountains on this trip, I can sometimes catch a glimpse of them from the wide windows of the commuter train I take each morning, and they are spectacular in their majesty. Overlooking the house-dotted hills, they stand as a reminder of the province of nature that is easily forgotten in the midst of the city. The novel Frankenstein comes to mind. Mary Shelley's evocative prose captures the essence of this natural landscape wonderfully, and although much of the description in this romantic-era novel seems grandiose when read out of context, being here in Switzerland, I can see what inspired her pen. Hopefully, however, my fate as a scientist proves more positive than that of the tormented titular character in that classic novel.


  1. I would LOVE to read your paper on my favourite dinosaur Stegosauru