All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
7 09, 2015

Role Models in the Earth Sciences – Girls Rock

By | September 7th, 2015|General Teaching, Key Stage 1/2, Key Stage 3/4|Comments Off on Role Models in the Earth Sciences – Girls Rock

Role Models in the Sciences – Go for it Girls!

One of the challenges faced by teaching teams is to encourage classes to adopt a more scientific approach to investigation and exploring the properties of materials.  The new national curriculum of England places great emphasis on working scientifically and with subject areas like adaptation, rocks, fossils and natural selection now part of the science element of this new scheme of work, teachers might struggle to identify suitable role models for the children.

Mary Anning (1799-1847), might be a strong candidate for consideration when thinking of historical figures that can inspire and enthuse girls, but there are a number of fantastically dedicated female scientists around today, extending our knowledge life on Earth and long-extinct animals.

Take for example, Canadian Victoria Arbour, whose work on Ankylosaurs is helping to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding these armoured dinosaurs.  Victoria is happy to confess that she never grew out of her “dinosaur phase” and her career in palaeontology has taken her to some amazing places in a bid to excavate more fossilised bones.  Victoria is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University (USA).

Providing a Role Model for Girls as Well as Boys when it Comes to  Considering Science Careers

Providing insights into armoured dinosaurs.

Providing insights into armoured dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Angelica Torices

Commenting on her current role, Dr. Arbour stated:

“Every day I walk past a Tyrannosaurus skeleton to get to my office, and my office is part of the exhibits at the museum, which means I get to see people enjoying that same Tyrannosaurus as much as I do.   In the summers I head out to the field to dig up dinosaurs in places like Utah, Alberta, and even sometimes Mongolia!  The rest of the time, I’m thinking about Ankylosaurs, the armoured dinosaurs with lots of spikes.”

It’s important for educationalists to recognise the wide range of science careers that are now available and the tremendous contribution being made to palaeontology and related fields by women.

An Illustration of a Typical Armoured Dinosaur (Ziapelta sanjuanensis)

A typical member of the Ankylosauridae

A typical member of the Ankylosauridae from the Upper Cretaceous of New Mexico.

Picture Credit: Sydney Mohr (Arbour et al. 2014, PLOS ONE:e108804).

Why the Ankylosauria?

Having undertaken her MSc and PhD degrees at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, a part of Canada with a wealth of Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils to study, it’s not surprising that Victoria would find her academic career having a strong bias towards the Dinosauria, but why armoured dinosaurs (Ankylosauria)?  After all, Ankylosaur remains are relatively rare in central and southern Alberta compared to other Ornithischians – the duck-billed dinosaurs and the horned dinosaurs for example.

Victoria explained:

“I became particularly interested in them [armoured dinosaurs] when I started to think about what kind of project I wanted to do for my MSc thesis.  I kept seeing pictures in books of Ankylosaurs using their tail clubs to defend themselves from predators and I wondered if there was a way we could figure out if they could have done that.  Some of the first projects I worked on looked at how fast and hard Ankylosaurs could swing their tail into something and what would happen to the tail when they smashed into another object.”

Dr. Arbour’s research has revealed lots of different aspects about armoured dinosaurs, from naming new species to learning about Ankylosaur biology and potential behaviour, even looking at how these plant-eaters moved between continents.

For any young boys and girls considering a career in the Earth Sciences, researchers like Victoria provide an excellent example of what can be achieved.  It is important that teachers gain an appreciation of the growing number of female role models working in scientific disciplines.  There’s no need to worry about running out of dinosaurs to study, as Victoria is the first to admit, once you try to answer one question, new ones keep popping up and we still have so much more to learn about these amazing creatures that once roamed our planet.

7 09, 2015

Helping to Inspire Young People to Study Earth Sciences

By | September 7th, 2015|Educational Activities, Famous Figures, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

A Role Model for Young People – Dr. Victoria Arbour

With the changes to the England’s national curriculum for schools and the greater emphasis on scientific working, team members at Everything Dinosaur often get asked to provide information about inspirational scientists to help enthuse and motivate young people.  With many schools adopting dinosaurs or the “Jurassic Forest” as a term topic and with rocks and fossils part of the curriculum at Key Stage 2, the number of requests for advice is on the increase.

The story of Mary Anning (1799-1847), the Dorset woman of “she sells sea shells on the seashore” fame is highly appropriate.  Mary’s contribution to palaeontology and geology is well-documented, as is sadly, her shabby treatment by the male dominated academia of the 19th Century.  For those teachers, homeschoolers and educationalists who want to inspire their pupils looking at the role of a scientist working today, then the work of Dr. Victoria Arbour and her research on armoured dinosaurs is worth exploring.

Dr. Victoria Arbour  (Vertebrate Palaeontologist)

Victoria next to a skull of a Euoplocephalus tutus (University of Alberta)

Victoria next to a skull of a Euoplocephalus tutus (University of Alberta)

Picture Credit: Angelica Torices

Here is a short biography of Dr. Arbour, in her own words (mostly):

I’m one of those kids that never grew out of their “dinosaur phase”.  I have been interested in palaeontology as far back as I can remember.  I knew that I wanted to pursue palaeontology as a career, or find an interesting field of science related to palaeontology.  So far, so good: I’m currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina (United States).  Prior to this, I did my MSc and PhD degrees at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, (Canada).

My home town is Halifax, (Nova Scotia, Canada) and I studied for my BSc degree in Earth Sciences and Biology at Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia).

Taking a break from her studies in the summer, Victoria spent some time identifying calcareous nannofossils (coccoliths and coccospheres et al) from the Scotian Slope, an area off the coast of the Canadian province.  However, whilst at university, Victoria helped to study the first dinosaur fossils that had ever been collected in British Columbia.  These were from a small plant-eating dinosaur, but unfortunately the remains were too fragmentary to figure out exactly what species it was.

Now based in North Carolina, Dr. Arbour focuses on the Dinosauria and her office is situated in a very inspiring location.  She continues:

Every day I walk past a Tyrannosaurus skeleton to get to my office, and my office is part of the exhibits at the museum, which means I get to see people enjoying that same Tyrannosaurus as much as I do.  In the summers I head out to the field to dig up dinosaurs in places like Utah, Alberta, and even sometimes Mongolia!  The rest of the time, I’m thinking about Ankylosaurs, the armoured dinosaurs with lots of spikes.

Why the Ankylosauridae?

I’ve always liked Ankylosaurs (well, I’ve always liked all dinosaurs!), but I became particularly interested in them when I started to think about what kind of project I wanted to do for my MSc thesis.  I kept seeing pictures in books of armoured dinosaurs using their tail clubs to defend themselves from predators, and I wondered if there was a way we could figure out if they could have done that.  So, some of the first projects I worked on looked at how fast and hard these dinosaurs could swing their tail into something, and what would happen to the tail when they smashed it into another object.

Teachers have no need to worry about whether or not all that can be discovered about dinosaurs will have been documented by the time their young charges are ready to choose further education options.  New dinosaurs are being named and described all the time.  For example, in a few days, Everything Dinosaur will be writing a short article on the very latest armoured dinosaur to be described – Horshamosaurus a member of the Ankylosauria clade, but a polacanthid, an armoured dinosaur that once roamed around West Sussex (southern England).

The Ankylosauria is Turning Out to be a Very Diverse Clade

Close inspection of the dinosaur models

Lots of armoured dinosaurs to study.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

When asked why she specialises in studying the armoured dinosaurs, Victoria replied:

“The sneaky thing about science is that as you try to answer one question, you end up with more than you started with!  One thing led to another, and I’ve been studying lots of different aspects of Ankylosaur biology – like how many species there were, how they moved between continents, and how their tail clubs evolved – and I still have lots of questions left to answer about these cool dinosaurs.”

For further information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools, including how to access free, downloadable educational resources with a dinosaur theme: Dinosaurs for Schools

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