Monumental changes are coming to paleontology at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science – some freshly conceived, and others, millions of years in the making.
The Perot Museum’s interest in and emphasis on prehistoric studies predates its 2012 debut in Victory Park, back to its previous iteration in Fair Park. Through the years, its renowned paleontological leadership has fortified the institution’s reputation as both a popular dino-destination for the public and the source of pioneering scientific discoveries in the field.
Helmed by Dr. Anthony Fiorillo, chief curator and vice president of research and collections, and Dr. Ronald Tykoski, director of the Paleo Lab, the museum’s paleontology department has placed itself at the forefront of public and academic conversations, including the discovery of two previously unknown dinosaur species. The team’s discoveries, from the remote reaches of Alaska to Texas’ own Big Bend National Park, have been covered and celebrated internationally in the scientific community.
This commitment to blazing the ancient trails with groundbreaking discoveries is particularly evident in Fiorillo’s ongoing arctic dinosaur exploration, one of the museum’s areas of expertise and a field largely unknown paleontologically as recently as the 1990s.
Our deep passion to explore the unknown has allowed the sum of our efforts to exceed any individual parts.
-Dr. Anthony Fiorillo
“Our deep passion to explore the unknown has allowed the sum of our efforts to exceed any individual parts,” said Fiorillo. “The result is that our work, given the stereotype of dinosaurs as tropical swamp dwellers, has challenged everything we think we know about dinosaurs. It’s also informed us about life in the extreme environment of the ancient north. There will be others that follow because we were the first there and have had so much success in our work.”
Now, amidst a series of large-scale enhancements to its permanent exhibit spaces (most recently, the completely revamped Being Human Hallin May), the Perot Museum is completing renovations to its T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall. Regular museum guests are familiar with the gallery’s iconic full-size Alamosaurusand other specimens seen nowhere else in the world like Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum and Nanuqsaurus hoglundi – both discovered and named by Perot Museum paleontologists. However, the latest changes to the space are expected to gain their own prehistoric prominence.
In June, the museum introduced Stan, a replica depicting the second most complete T. rex in existence, who now greets guests atop its well-known, glass-enclosed escalator, dubbed the “T. rexcalator”. That same month, the museum unveiled a Dancing Dinos exhibit, allowing guests to boogie in sync with a raptor avatar while learning how paleontologists uncover clues to dinosaur behavior through their prehistoric footprints.
The biggest change is yet to come. The museum will debut its new Paleo Lab in the Life Then and Now Hallduring Labor Day weekend.The glass-encased permanent exhibit will give guests a real-time view of the dynamic research of Perot Museum paleontologists as they process and prepare fossils fresh from the field. Cameras in the lab will project close-up views of fossil preparation while museum educators demonstrate the tools and techniques and explain how this work connects to the specimens displayed throughout the exhibit hall. The pièce de résistance – the first fully articulated cast of Nanuqsaurus hoglundi– will stand atop the new Paleo Lab, bathed in a fanciful glow reminiscent of the Northern Lights.
“We’re excited to bring this technical aspect of our paleontology program into the public eye,” enthused Tykoski. “The Perot Museum supports and engages in the full range of paleontological activities: from exploration, collection, and preparation, to top-of-the-line research, publishing, exhibition, and long-term conservation. We hope this peek-behind-the-curtain exhibit sparks the imagination and scientific curiosity of children and adults of all ages and inspires them to greater interest in our natural world.”
The new Paleo Lab will offer guests the opportunity to see some of the museum’s fossils in various states of extraction, repair, and restoration –and perhaps even the unearthing of another new species! Many specimens in the lab will come from the same excavation that produced Pachyrhinosaurus perotorumand Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, while others will come from Texas and additional locations around the world. Once specimens are completed, they will move into the museum’s collections for proper curation and storage, and new fossils will be brought in to begin the process anew.
“You never know when something new to science might be uncovered right before your eyes,” mused Tykoski.
In conjunction with the Paleo Lab’s public debut, the museum will celebrate all things dinosaur with its inaugural Dino Fest. The two-day family festival will offer the chance to meet a museum paleontologist, take part in dinosaur trivia and special workshops, engage prehistoric creatures in augmented reality, check out the traveling exhibition Ultimate Dinosaurs, refresh at the beer garden, and partake in a variety of dino-themed activities.
Fiorillo eagerly anticipates what lies ahead for the museum. “As we embark on a new era of paleontological adventures and uphold our mission to inspire minds through nature and science, we are eager to invite the public on a history-making journey to a greater understanding of life millions of years ago and its applications to life on Earth today.”
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