Thursday, June 23, 2016

Jurassic World at Melbourne Museum

Dinosaurs have more or less taken over my life since the beginning of this year when I started working at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History. Most kids go through a dinosaur phase when growing up, there's something about these animals that captures the imagination unlike anything else. Some people never outgrow this fascination, and fewer still are lucky enough to become palaeontologists, actually describing fossil material in scientific papers. When I graduated last year I assumed I would follow along the path of an academic, going on to start Master's and then a PhD but I've enjoyed working as a museum tour guide. I've been able to meet with researcher's and work in what can only be described as a nurturing as well as enriching role, fulfilling the role of science communicator and educator to the public. 

I took a short trip back to Melbourne to attend my graduation ceremony, and visited the Jurassic World Exhibition at Melbourne Museum with my mother. To my surprise, I got in for free (saving myself thirty dollars) since I had volunteered with the museum, assisting the curator of palaeoinvertebrates. The exhibition was very much in the style of the Jurassic World movie, including an entire room dedicated to insects in amber. Of course all of the specimens were fake, and there has only ever been one instance of a mosquito found in amber, without DNA I might add. I usually get asked whether we can extract DNA from fossil material on a daily basis, to which I reply "DNA has a half-life of 50,000 years" and by the time we find a fossil tens of millions of years old, there isn't any DNA left. 

The most spectacular feature of the exhibition were the life size dinosaurs throughout each of the galleries and I can only imagine how much time and effort went into creating these masterpieces. These life like models also made a range of sounds, rattling each room and really adding to the gravitas of their size and stature. The lighting used to illuminate scales, teeth and skin, was highly effective. Although it was hard to see, the vegetation was also carefully chosen. In the Cretaceous, 95 million years ago grasses had not yet evolved and the forest understory was dominated by ferns. Within some rooms stood majestic cycads, a type of plant we were trying to grow at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs but with very little success. 

While I did enjoy the exhibition, I was more interested in the science behind these reconstructions as well as seeing fossils on display. Towards the end of the exhibition there was a short film roll including footage shot during the Dinosaur Dreaming dig held in Victoria, earlier this year. While I didn't make it into the final cut, I enjoyed pointing out colleagues and friends to my mother. The dinosaur I pose with at the very end is named "Australovenator wintonensis", an animal I talk about on a daily basis in western Queensland. At the time I was skeptical that a claw identified in Victoria belonged to the same species more than tens of thousands of kilometres apart, but I've since heard the experts talk about it and am now convinced.


  1. Ohhhh my gosh. This exhibition looks so damn cool!!!! I love dinosaurs and wish I knew more about them. You are so right when saying there's something special these creatures add to our imagination. THEY'RE JUST PLAIN AWESOME. These pictures are so cool and you are too cute!!!! Now I really want to volunteer at a museum...

  2. Wow what an amazing job you have, is just incredible. When I was a kid I wanted to become palaeontologists, I used to play with my dad's brushes using them for cleaning rocks! haha

    Also congratulations on your graduation!
    I miss melbourne everyday, I used to live there, but now I'm back in Colombia.

    The Mushroom Rain