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Archive for the ‘lab activities’ Category

WitmerLab members are like many paleontologists in having their teaching responsibility in the medical gross anatomy lab. Here Witmer and grad student William Porter work with OU-HCOM med students.

August is vacation time at most universities. For members of our research lab, however, summer is the busy season. We’re completely consumed by teaching a comprehensive medical gross anatomy course at our academic home, the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM). “Wait…what? I thought you were dinosaur guys…paleontologists, not medical people.” I get that all the time. We’re both, and it’s not as crazy as it sounds, nor as unusual as you might think.

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Alligators are everywhere. They’re team mascots, Transformer toys, actors in Lubriderm commercials (and CSI: Miami), unwanted golfing partners, and even expensive cowboy boots. What might be a surprise is that they’re also “model animals” for scientists, meaning that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of published technical articles on all things gatorly. They’re also commonly used in K-12 and undergraduate classrooms. WitmerLab has been working on American alligators for years, because crocodilians are one of just two living groups (birds are the other) of that great tribe known as archosaurs that includes dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Now, we’re joining with Casey Holliday’s lab at the University of Missouri to present the 3D Alligator, two parallel, complementary, and growing websites that present alligator anatomy in all its 3D digital glory. In both cases, we’re starting with the skull, although we include a few soft-tissue systems that are active areas of research for us (brain, inner ear, sinuses, etc.). Casey’s team presents an adult skull, and we present a wee gatorling, a “day-0” hatchling that was stillborn on its birthday. Sad perhaps, but this little guy is now immortal, because we’re releasing him to the tubes of the interwebz. We also present some of our 3D alligator work on an adult done “way back” in 2008. Check out the WitmerLab 3D Alligator site and the Holliday Lab 3D Alligator site. (more…)

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Some things (and people) have had so much work done on them, so many parts replaced, that they become unrecognizable as their former selves. Frankenstein’s monster, reality show star Heidi Montag, comedian Joan Rivers, and my old Stratocaster come to mind…as do computers in the WitmerLab. The latest was a venerable old lab computer that went under the knife recently for not just a face lift, but a tummy tuck, lip job, nose job, chin implant, butt implant, all kinds of augmentation, and a vajazzling to make Jennifer Love Hewitt proud. We thought we’d offer you a front-row seat.

It ain't Hollywood, but WitmerLab computers routinely go under the knife to be given new life (like Frankenstein) or to be made more current, trendy, and hopefully more desirable (like Heidi...she hopes). Here's witmer10, very alive and smokin' hot after highly successful surgery.

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In Part 1 of this series, we explored why a research lab should take time away from their normal scholarly activities to engage the public. This post, Part 2, will look at the mechanisms the WitmerLab has used to share our research findings and approaches beyond the specialist scientific community. We participate in four basic, often-overlapping arenas: the web, the science news media, broadcast media, and in-person engagements.

Television documentaries provide wide exposure for our research. Filming at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital, Athens, OH, with Heather Rockhold (right) for an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary with Philip Currie (center). Photo by Joy Miller Upton (OBMH).

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Happy Halloween from the WitmerLab! A pair of Velociraptors face off, as if engaging in some dark ritual. Photography by Amy Martiny.

Halloween means something different in Athens, Ohio. Sure, we have kids running around, trick-or-treating in Spiderman, Harry Potter, and princess costumes. But we also have what is reputed to be the third largest block party in the country, involving not just Ohio University students and locals but people from all over. Our little town of about 25,000 residents and 20,000 students swells with another 20,000–50,000 revelers (read the definitive history, Athens News, 31 Oct 2009). Costumes are elaborate and planned months or years in advance. There’s music, there’s food…and, yes, there’s drink. WitmerLab members work extremely hard, but even they are not immune to the pull of this annual event.
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Not many research labs have an actual mission statement, but we kinda came up with one when we first launched our Facebook page: “WitmerLab: 21st century approaches to fleshing out the past. — Our mission is to use the structure of extinct and modern-day animals to interpret evolutionary history…and to share that history with the broader community.” This is the first of a two-part post devoted to the last part of that statement. Here we look at why we jumped into the public arena, and the next post will explore what we’ve been doing. We recently returned from the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology where we presented a poster entitled “Promoting a culture of outreach within an active university research lab setting: WitmerLab at Ohio University,” as part of the SVP Education & Outreach special poster session, and so the topic is fresh.

WitmerLab poster for the 2010 SVP Education and Outreach poster session. Larger JPG: http://bit.ly/bsTqvB . PDF: http://bit.ly/95fHSc .

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Casey Holliday measuring ostrich bones (2001).

A project that got its start way back in WitmerLab’s Triassic Period finally came to fruition, thanks to the professionalism and perseverance of lead author Casey Holliday. Today, in the freely available, open-access online journal PLoS ONE, we published an article (Holliday et al. 2010) on the caps of cartilage (known as epiphyses) that form the articulations between the long bones of dinosaurs and their modern-day archosaurian relatives (birds and crocs). For a long time, paleontologists had looked at the ends of dinosaur bones like the femur or humerus and suspected that something might be missing. The bones’ ends looked poorly formed, almost too simple, or were covered with a rough pattern of bumps and grooves. The logical conclusion was that many of these bones must have been covered with pretty significant amounts of cartilage.
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