Paleontological study disputes conventional dinosaur image

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A scientific discovery is causing researchers to believe many dinosaurs may have had a feather-like covering. Julia Clarke, paleontologist and associate geology professor, spoke about new discoveries at Friday’s “Hot Science — Cool Talks” lecture series hosted by the Environmental Science Institute to involve the public and K-12 students and educators in current science topics. “For as long as we’ve known about dinosaurs, we’ve wondered about their appearance, we’ve speculated and colored them different hues and put patterns on them, but we haven’t had a sense of what they looked like in many ways,” Clarke said. A dinosaur by definition actually includes contemporary birds and only certain animals that we traditionally think of as dinosaurs. Based on how closely related they are on an evolutionary time scale, researchers can now determine how they looked, Clarke said. “The possibility that all dinosaurs had some filamentous or bristles has really become a realistic idea,” Clarke said. A Chinese farmer found a fossilized dinosaur in 1996 that shows signs of feather-like filaments, Clarke said. New knowledge of how pigment-producing organelles work, called melanosomes, is furthering knowledge about the animals’ actual coloring. Stephen Brueggerhoff, programs manager for the Institute said the event brings many different people from the community. “We get a lot of families out. They’ve got to know that science isn’t daunting; science can be fun,” Brueggerhoff said. Austin resident Dabney Rigby brought her 9-year-old son and dinosaur fan, Tobias, to the event. “When we found out about this, we knew we had to come,” Rigby said. Deborah Salzberg, institute education coordinator, said the lecture series helps engage the community and develop a deeper interest in science. “Anytime you can take a topic that is extremely accessible and that is extremely well known, like dinosaurs, and add a new scientific element to make people look at it in a new way, it reinvigorates their interest, not only in that topic but in science in general,” Salzberg said.