Thanks to research by students like Savhannah Carpenter, supported by professor Mark Loewen, a paleontology scholar, a “new” dinosaur will soon be recognized as a species.
Carpenter, a third-year geology major, didn’t expect to be part of such a big discovery. When she started at the U, she decided to volunteer with the Natural History Museum of Utah, where she spent a lot of time as a kid. After her volunteer work, she was offered an internship and eventually invited by Loewen to join in his research on ceratopsian dinosaurs, like triceratops.
“In my research, I do everything from looking at bones and describing them in papers to traveling to museums in other states and countries to present the research to children and other researchers,” Carpenter said.
This specific dinosaur was discovered nearly a decade ago, but was sitting in the collections department of the Natural History Museum. Loewen began to study the bones and realized that the dinosaur wasn’t like ones he’d seen before. He passed the bones on to Carpenter, who worked for over a year analyzing each piece.
“We plugged all of those physical traits that I found into a coding system called TNT parsimony,” Carpenter said. “That system comes up with the simplest family tree based on the traits that you coded for. We used more traits than had ever been used in coding ceratopsian dinosaurs, and it created an entirely new family tree.”
The research will culminate in a published paper, which is currently in the peer review process. The paper was presented at the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference as a valid new species. It’s currently named “UMNH VP 20600,” but will be assigned a new name at the end of the peer review process.
“Anyone interested in paleontology, stick it out,” Carpenter said. “Put the work in, and good things will come. I started as a volunteer, and all of this happened in just a couple of years. When you like what you do, it’s worth it.”
Find this article and a lot more in the 2020 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.