The MSU students are back in China, where they explore the culture, look for fossils, and study dinosaur eggs in the laboratory.

Selected college students from across Montana travel to the Zhejiang Province of China on a National Science Fund program from May 17 - June 19, 2012. The students will be exposed to the culture and people of China as a way of broadening their worldview. The cultural exposure is secondary, however, to the research and study of dinosaur eggs at the Zhejiang Natural History Museum. This now marks the third year for this program and the 2012 research team consists of Dr. David Varricchio, Hannah Wilson, Michael Bustamante, Ian Underwood, Paul Germano, Heather Davis, Anita Moore-Nall, Bob Rader, Danny Barta, and Christian Heck

Introduction, methods, results, conclusions. These are the subjects that will form our paper. The introduction provides background information on the subject and introduces the reader to our study. The methods and results, well, that’s self-explanatory. That brings us to conclusions. Conclusions (or Discussion depending on which you prefer…and sometimes they are split into two sections!) are where we have to make sense of it all. This may seem like an easy task at first, because the results should show us all we need to know right? Nope.

Let’s take Hannah and I’s project as an example. We start off with results on the compression of eggs. Easy enough. This is followed by possible explanations for the compaction the eggs seemed to suffer through. This is where one can get lost going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. Sediment overlay, transport, micro-faults, etc., etc. could be explanations for the compaction. Then we have to figure out if there is a way to arrange the clutch back to its original orientation. But what if the eggs were laid in a hole? What if they were transported prior to compaction? What if they were hatched, and how does that affect amount of compaction? What if a disgruntled dinosaur merely stepped on all of them? We have to consider everything when reconstructing the taphonomic histories of these eggs.

One of the most important areas of research is the use of field observations and their incorporation within the study. We were lucky enough to be presented with specimens collected with proper stratigraphic data and in-situ orientation (remember those things from a few posts ago?). Although it’s only two specimens, they are of immense importance in our study. They could essentially raise our results to another level or tear down the foundation of our study. For our project on orientation, the specimens arose to the occasion and supported our data. True results and conclusions will have to wait until data from other groups is collected.

Anita Moore-Nall’s research on reduction spots can provide further support for our results and Ian Underwood’s work on eggshell thickness variation is useful as well. The Hatching Window team’s research on defining a window has implications for level of compaction. Ian’s eggshell thickness studies could explain locations of hatching windows. Anita’s research could provide an explanation for eggshell thinning. Danny’s cladistics studies places all of our work within a framework of phylogenetics. We came to China as a group, split into teams, researched, measured different aspects of eggs, and at the end, all of our team studies will come together to help the entire group. That is what collaboration is all about.

The excel sheets have been saved, citations have been found, calipers put away, specimens returned to collections, samples taken, goodbyes have been said, and bags packed. We’ve spent three weeks in Hangzhou calling the museum our home (and the hotel our second home). A week of rain, bugs, and fieldwork out in Tiantai and Dongyang gave everyone a glimpse of fieldwork. We’ve traveled through larger-than-life cities such as Shanghai (and soon Beijing) to small agriculture towns for fieldwork. Culture shock came and went, and we’re all better for our experiences here.

We cannot even begin to express the appropriate amount of thanks to the entire museum staff and everyone who helped us here, but we’ll try. Thank you to Wenjie Zheng, Xiuti Li, and Shengxiao Gu for all of the help they provided us at the museum, dinners, and out in the field. We never would have survived without their patience and kindness. Thank you to Dr. Jin for allowing us to come to the museum to handle and study these amazing specimens. Thank you to all of the museum staff here for their help in every aspect of our work. A special thank you goes Li Ping Wong for being our amazing driver.

As a group we would also like to thank Dr. David Varricchio for constantly pushing us in the right direction, for editing our papers, and for showing us around China among many other things. Thank you to past research groups for leaving us with data, descriptions, and a solid base of work with which to build upon. Thank you to Dr. Frankie Jackson and, again, Dr. Varricchio for selecting us for this research opportunity. Thank you to Evelyn and Bora for their great work on the blog posts! Most importantly, we would like to thank the National Science Foundation for giving us this amazing chance at hands-on research and cultural experience. Lastly, I would like to thank all of the group members for being extremely nice, outgoing, and workaholics. None of us would have gotten anywhere without each other’s positive re-enforcement, critiques, and scientific discussions.

All that’s left now is a three-day stint in Beijing before heading back to Montana to continue our research and re-acclimate to life in the western world.

Previously in this series:

MSU China Paleontology Expedition: Team Progress Update

MSU Dinosaurs: An Egg By Any Other Name…

MSU Dinosaurs: introducing the Hatching Window Team

MSU Dinosaurs: Using Taphonomy to Further Understand Clutch Arrangement

MSU Dinosaurs: deformations in eggs

MSU Dinosaurs: Team Strider – Eggshell Thickness Variance

MSU Dinosaurs: Tiantai and Fieldwork in the Rain

MSU Dinosaurs: finding eggs at the Graveyard Hills