The legacy of dinosaurs is often colored by their mass extinction, but it’s important to note that they populated the Earth for 164 million years.
“They are probably one of the most successful organisms that have ever lived on Earth,” says Celina Suarez, associate professor in the U of A Department of Geosciences. “Dinosaurs and their avian (bird) descendants occupied all the different eco-spaces, from the air to the land, the sea. They swim, they walk, they run, they fly.”
Because dinosaurs inhabited our planet for so long, they underwent drastic environmental changes. Studying these changes can provide insight into our current changing climate.
Suarez will discuss dinosaur research and its relevance in his public lecture “The Science, Politics and Culture of Dinosaurs,” which will be offered via Zoom at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday, October 4.
Suarez’s lecture will feature a preview of his Spring 2023 Honors College Signature Seminar, The science, politics and culture of dinosaurs. Please complete this online interest form to access the conference.
Clues to a changing climate
Although they haven’t roamed the Earth for millions of years, dinosaurs can still teach us a lot about our present and future world. Suarez notes that prehistoric temperature changes are particularly relevant now.
“For most of dinosaur history, the climate was in a greenhouse state,” she explains. “But this period also saw short-term hyperthermal events where we entered a hothouse state with really very high global temperatures of around 36 degrees Celsius. [96.8 degrees Fahrenheit].”
These temperature variations allow us to study dinosaurs to observe how the animals change before, during and after hyperthermic periods. Suarez reports that we could link some prehistoric climate changes to modern climate changes today. The effects of this change, she explains, are literally carved in stone.
“There’s so much information contained in a single specimen or series of specimens that you see through a rock record, which is basically time,” says Suarez, whose own research analyzes the chemistry of bones and teeth. dinosaurs for clues about their climate. “We can use these organisms to tell us what they ate, what they drank, and how that changed over time.”
Deep time, new tools
To study living organisms over such a vast period, Suarez’s lecture will address several interdisciplinary topics. She encourages participants to consider areas related to their fields.
“An engineer can easily begin to delve into how paleontologists study dinosaur biomechanics,” she explains, noting that modern paleontology incorporates various sciences like chemistry, 3D modeling and artificial intelligence.
These modern techniques may help answer a burning question for dinosaur enthusiasts: what they looked like. Suarez says techniques like synchrotron spectroscopy and geochemical analyzes of keratin could help identify the color and iridescence of dinosaur feathers.
“It’s possible we could tell what color some dinosaurs were…[but] for some, we have no feathers, no skin, nothing. Still, Suarez embraces the unknown for the way it prompts further investigation. “The more we don’t know, the more things we can research, the more opportunities students have to engage in research.”
Beyond science, the conference will also examine key historical perspectives, in particular the relationship of paleontology with indigenous populations. She will examine how Manifest Destiny has impacted specimens on Indigenous lands. “[The U.S. Geological Survey] sent scientists to find resources, and one of those resources ended up being fossils, regardless of what was taken,” reports Suarez, who will address the subject of the repatriation of extracted materials.
Suarez hopes the conference will showcase different aspects of dinosaur research and arouse people’s curiosity. His own passion remains after years of study. “When you’re out in the field working with a group of paleontologists and you see some really cool fossils, you’re like, ‘Ah, yeah, that’s my job, I like it – it’s fun! “”
About Celina Suarez
Suarez is an associate professor in the Department of Geosciences at the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on the use of trace element and stable isotope geochemistry of fossil vertebrates, invertebrates and paleosols to understand fossil preservation, past greenhouse climates, major climate changes and their effects on continental ecosystems. .
Her research has taken her to the United States, China, South Africa and Lesotho. She also has a passion for diversity in the geosciences, the accessibility of field research to diverse populations, and science popularization. Suarez is the recipient of several National Science Foundation awards and is an active member of the Geological Society of America, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, American Geophysical Union, and Society of the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. .
She earned her BS in Geosciences from Trinity University, an MS in Geology from Temple University and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Kansas. She was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Boise State University.
Signature seminars explore various topics
Dinosaur Science, Policy, and Culture is one of three Honors College Signature Seminars scheduled for Spring 2023. Other topics to explore include death and arttaught by Lynn Jacobs, professor emeritus at the School of Art, and Soccertaught by Todd Cleveland, Associate Principal and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History.
Deans of each college can nominate faculty to participate in this program, and those selected to teach will become Honors College Dean’s Scholars.
Honors students must apply to participate, and those selected will be designated Dean’s Signature Scholars. The course request is published online on the Signing Seminars Webpage. The deadline to apply is Monday, October 31.
About the Specialized College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and brings together high-achieving undergraduates and the university’s top faculty to share transformative learning experiences. Each year, the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman scholarships that provide $80,000 over four years and more than $1 million in research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students benefit from small, in-depth courses and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with cross-disciplinary collaborations encouraged.
About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas’ flagship institution, the U of A offers an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion for Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and employment development, discovery through research and creative activity while providing training in professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation ranks the U of A among the best colleges and universities in the United States with the highest level of research activity. you.S. News and World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. Find out how the U of A is working to build a better world in Arkansas Research News.