Editor's Note: MSU China Paleontology Expedition is a project led by Frankie D. Jackson and David J. Varricchio, professors in the Department of Earth Sciences, Dinosaur Paleontology at Montana State University and Jin Xingsheng, paleontologist and Vice Director of the Zhejiang Natural History Museum in Hangzhou, China. This is the second year this program sent students - primarily from small junior and tribal colleges - to China for paleontological work. This year's students are currently in China, studying dinosaur eggs, as well as Chinese culture.

Josette Wooden Legs, Photo taken by Christi L.

Dinosaur eggshells are valuable indicators, both biologically and environmentally. For our research focus, we have decided to determine eggshell thickness in correlation to points on an eggshell and the implications that may result. Two principal problems that we encountered initially were that we had no way to record an accurate measurement of the eggshell width, and that we did not know for certain the orientation of the egg in that there was no apparent way to tell which point on the egg was laid skyward – "up". We addressed the first issue in the experimental design and the second we hope to address after the data has been collected and analyzed.

Josette Wooden Legs, Photo taken by Frankie Jackson

      In order to measure the thickness of the shell, we have developed a system in which a sewing needle was placed under a microscope and measured with calipers at every millimeter up to five millimeters. While still under the microscope, a pocket knife was used to cut hash marks in the needle at the measured intervals. Colored pencil shavings were then rubbed into the marks so that they were more apparent. Having done so we are able to place the needle parallel to the plane of the eggshell cross-section and use the hash marks to measure the width accurately on a small scale.

Tyler, Photo taken by Christi L.

We have decided to use thirty points on each egg and so we toook pieces of clay and placed them on the thirty spots deemed best to measure. Each piece of clay is assigned a number and then the egg is photographed. We then uploaded photos to an editing program. The photos are then correlated with the numbers. We take pictures of the egg from all angles and then correlate each of the thirty points with a number. When measured, we record the eggshell thickness at each number.

Tyler, Photo taken By Josette Wooden Legs     

Upon return to Montana State University, we will use a computer program that will allow us to create a three dimensional image of the egg with the various eggshell thicknesses. Through this, we hope to model a replica of the egg with the correct eggshell thicknesses in the correct places. By doing so, we will then hypothesize the orientation. We plan to test this hypothesis with an actual taphonomic experiment in which eggshells of modern birds will be measured and then correlated to the data gathered on the fossil eggs.

About the Authors:

Josette WoodenLegs is from Lame Deer, Montana. She is a Chief Dull Knife College alumna, and is Northern Cheyenne. She was one of the students selected for the International Research Experience for students. Her interests are anthropology and new media arts. While traveling to Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China to study paleontology on dinosaur eggs, she will be in charge of the media aspect of the research including videography, photography, and content development for BTC studio 1080 for the Montana State University-Bozeman website.

Tyler Bridges is a senior of paleontology at Montana State University. He is originally from South Carolina and decided to attend MSU for the paleontology option offered there. He loves travelling, learning languages and doing research. He is very excited for the trip to China.

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