FROM THE EDUCATION DESK
Hello March, it is nice to see you! Where February went is a mystery to me! We still have not had much of a winter and as I write this the sun is shining and it is a lovely day!
The digital reconstruction of the skull of a 200 million year old South African dinosaur has made it possible for researchers to make 3D prints and in this way facilitate research on other dinosaurs all over the world. Kimi Chapelle, a PhD student at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa (Wits), has used the Wits Microfocus CT facility to look inside the skull of Massospondylus. She was able to use the CT facility to rebuild every bone of the cranium, and to look at tiny features like nerves exiting the brain and the balance organs of the inner ear.
Chapelle’s paper includes details on how the inner ear and the middle ear contacted each other and what they looked like. She documented where the nerves connecting different parts of the skull to the brain were and which bones they went through. She also noted that replacement teeth did not erupt in a specific pattern and were present on all teeth and that the bones that surrounded the brain in this specific fossil were not fully fused, meaning that it was not fully grown. This could help us understand how fast it grew and how big it could get. Chapelle goes on to say that by comparing the inner ear to that of other dinosaurs, we can try and interpret how they held their heads and how they moved.
“Students have been able to use our CT facility to produce cutting edge research” said Prof. Jonah Choiniere, the supervisor and co-author of the study, “and it’s changing the way we do dinosaur research.”
Massospondylus was named in 1854 by anatomist Sir Richard Owen. Fossils of this dinosaur have been found in many places in South Africa, ranging in size from hatchlings to adult, but a lot of the features had never been described.