Kristyn Voegele ’11 has spent the last three years surrounded by huge rare bones. A paleontology grad student at Drexel University, Voegele has been working with a new dinosaur species, which is the largest ever found.
The Dreadnoughtus schrani was discovered in Argentina in 2005 by Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, Voegele’s doctoral advisor. His team excavated the bones over the next four years and brought the dinosaur to the United States to study in his Drexel lab. Everyone working with the enormous dinosaur kept it under wraps until the discovery was reported in the September issue of Scientific Reports.
“I’m standing in my lab surrounded by these huge bones,” Voegele says, her voice echoing through the large space. “It’s pretty cool to come in here.”
Working on an 85-foot herbivore that would have weighed 65 tons when it was alive is no small feat. More than 70 percent of the bones, excluding the head, were located and had to be stored at three different facilities to find enough space.
“At first, it makes you feel small because the bones are so big and there are so many of them and they are everywhere,” Voegele says. “And then you start working with them and you always need help to move them because they are so big. And then you realize, I’m as tall as this dinosaur’s humerus. And it doesn’t feel so big. And then someone comes to visit and they think it’s huge.”
Voegele worked on the backbone – the dorsal vertebrae between the hips and the shoulders – examining the muscle structure on the bones. As the youngest graduate student to join the project, she was thrilled with how much she got to participate. All the graduate students on the team took 3D scans of the bones, which will allow scientists without access to the actual dinosaur to see the creature.
“New technology is letting us look at these dinosaurs like we’ve never been able to do before. We are starting to understand the biology of dinosaurs in general better,” she says.
The Dreadnoughtus, which means “fears nothing,” is on a research loan from Argentina and will be returned to that country in 2015. Voegele has two more years in her doctoral program and will still do research on this dinosaur after the boat carrying the creature leaves the bay.
“The lab is going to look very, very empty,” Voegele says wistfully.
Photo credit: Ken Lacovara