Thursday, August 30, 2012

Things to Do in Leicestershire: Visit a T Rex!

In your mind, superimpose that spine-tingling T-Rex roar from Jurassic Park
Another joint photo-and-I've-done-something-interesting post! I'm including some of the photos below, but (as always) you can see more here.

I have lots of interests, but a good way to figure out what some of them are would be to grab a small boy and ask him what he finds interesting: space is a surefire hit, but so are dinosaurs, and that's the subject of today's Interesting Thing.

My friend Victoria is a seismologist*. She works in the Geology department at the University of Leicester, which has its very own pet Tyrannosaurus Rex**. They are actively encouraging schools to send groups of students to visit Jane (and to see some other things in the department- they have an extensive collection of rocks and fossils on show, including some meteorites!), but Victoria kindly arranged for myself and my other half, Emma, to come in and meet Jane without a gaggle of kids in tow. She was doubly-kind and arranged for us to meet Dr Jan Zalasiewicz***, senior lecturer in Palaeobiology, who knows all about Jane (as well as everything else dinosaur-related) who talked to us about her (and palaeobiology in general) and answered all of our questions.

Jane is a young adult T. Rex, standing 2.3m tall, and 6.4m long. Double these figures, and you'll get an idea what mummy and daddy were like.
To any teachers who are reading, I found Dr Jan to be knowledgeable without being overbearing: he obviously knows his stuff and is experienced and comfortable with passing it on to others, and not necessarily at the university level. He showed us one of the activities he does with younger kids (involving a very large rolled up sheet of paper with an ancient dino-wing drawn on it), which I can imagine working well with anybody, young or old, with a dino-geekery streak in them. To get in on the action, check out Jane's website and email schools liaison officer Dr Gawen Jenkin at to find out more.

There are other fossils on display, arguably the most impressive of which are these well-preserved dinosaur eggs.
After we'd finished with the fossils, Victoria took us down to the room where the meat of her work - seismology - gets done. She works for the university and maintains the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)'s seismic equipment pool (mostly seismometers, funnily enough), and part of her job involves testing the equipment when it is returned to the department.

These seismometers were being tested. Victoria showed us the readings they were given on a laptop they were connected to, and how they were effected just by jumping up and down near them. Earthquakes on the other side of the world have been detected by seismometers on test in this room!
We also headed down to Leicester's New Walk Museum and Art Gallery for a look, largely because they have a dinosaur exhibition on at the moment. This was pretty cool, but the museum doesn't allow photography, so that's a post for another day!

Part of the internal workings of a water-damaged seismometer.

* Yes, that has very little to do with dinosaurs, but keep with it.
** Unfortunately she's**** been dead for around 66 million years, but looking good for it, despite the lack of skin, flesh, internal organs, etc.
*** I recognised him, but my memory wasn't being very helpful until later in the day when I remembered seeing one of his lectures at the Space Science themed 2010 University of Leicester Homecoming. I blogged about that (and the other lectures) here.
**** Actually, they don't know whether Jane was male or female: sexing dinosaurs is tricky.
Ja(y)ne can be a boy's name too...