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New Expedition–MSU Student Research with Dinosaur Eggs in China

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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MSU China Paleontology Expedition is a project led by Frankie D. Jackson and David J. Varricchio who are professors in the Department of Earth Sciences, Dinosaur Paleontology at Montana State University and Jin Xingsheng who is a paleontologist and Vice Director of the Zhejiang Natural History Museum in Hangzhou, China.

This is the second year this program sent students to China for paleontological work. This year’s students are already in China, studying dinosaur eggs, as well as Chinese culture.

The students have already started posting their dispatches on their own blog, but we will catch up with them quickly, here on the Expeditions blog, and will continue posting their impressions and experiences as soon as they can send them in.

They have sent me this introduction, so you will get to know more about the program and about the research they are doing:

In 2005, David Varricchio and Frankie Jackson from the Department of Earth Sciences’ paleontology program at Montana State University (MSU) began research collaboration with Dr. Xingsheng Jin at the Zhejiang Natural History Museum in Hangzhou, China. This museum houses over 3000 dinosaur eggs, one of the largest collections in China. The collaboration focuses on dinosaur reproductive biology and understanding the evolution of reproductive traits in the transition from small carnivorous theropod dinosaurs to modern birds.

Although Montana produced the first dinosaur eggs in North America, the preservation potential and diversity of fossil eggs remains limited compared to China. Spectacular specimens discovered in the last 10 years in China include a vast array of eggs and feathered dinosaurs, oviraptors on top of egg clutches, and eggs preserved within adult skeletons. The quality of these specimens has propelled China to the forefront of vertebrate paleontology and increased the importance of collaboration among scientists.

In 2009, Jackson and Varricchio obtained a 3-year grant through the National Science Foundation’s program International Research Experience for Students (IRES). This grant provides science students from Montana universities and colleges the opportunity for a 5 week research experience in China, while increasing their knowledge of the country’s rich cultural heritage. 

The IRES program includes not only paleontology undergraduate majors, but science majors from small junior and tribal colleges where opportunities for research experience may be more limited. The purpose of the program is to encourage student interest in research, increase participation by ethnic groups underrepresented in the sciences, and provide the necessary tools to conduct research.

The success of the first year of this program was well demonstrated when the students received a grant last fall from the Undergraduate Scholars Program at MSU to continue the research they began in China in 2010. As a result, they learned new analytical techniques and are preparing a manuscript for publication. Further, they submitted three co-authored abstracts to this year’s annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology where they hope to present posters on their work. Their analyses represent some of the first ever applied to the study of fossil eggs from China.

The students participating in this year’s IRES trip to China are continuing this research and show equal enthusiasm and potential for a research career.

Watch this space over the next few weeks for fascinating experiences studying dinosaur eggs in China.





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