Student Brad Andres says, "Dinosaurs are my passion, plain and simple." He set up Macalester's histology lab and finds that studying fossils gives us insight into modern animals.
BY Brad Andres '11
St. Paul, Minnesota
My summer research started with something that sounds crazy—sawing apart dinosaur bones. Bones are the best source of information that we have for looking into the lives of extinct species. However, to get all the information out of the bones you can’t just look at the outside or the shape; you need to get inside to get the real story.
In studying dinosaur bones we not only get a window into the lives of animals that lived over 65 million years ago, we also get to see what traits they passed on to their modern descendants: birds.
Think of a skeleton as a library, each bone representing a book in that library. The book cover tells you its name and what it’s about, just like the shape and size of a bone. However, the rest of the information that the book holds is in the pages, and the same goes for bones. By looking at thin slices of bone through the microscope, we can extract data related to growth rates, diet, and even environment.
I spent the majority of last summer setting up Macalester’s brand new histology lab. This entailed perfecting the art of cutting apart bones and grinding them down to slices thinner than a sheet of paper. After developing this skill, I assisted in several other senior projects ranging from studying bacterial and fungal degradation in fossils, to studying bony plates found in the skin of sauropods from Madagascar.
Research into fossil bone is critical to expanding our understanding of modern animals and the modern world. In studying dinosaur bones we not only get a window into the lives of animals that lived over 65 million years ago, we also get to see what traits they passed on to their modern descendants: birds. The ability to do this for all modern animals is what makes paleontology such an important science.
Dinosaurs are my passion, plain and simple, and Macalester has enabled me to further my understanding and love of these extinct organisms. Not only have the geology classes been phenomenal in explaining the processes that shape our ever-changing earth, but they also help us understand life in the past, the present, and how it could be in the future.