The Student Movement


Dinosaurs Under the Microscope: Mary Higby Schweitzer Visits Andrews

Alannah Tjhatra

Photo by Alannah Tjhatra

On Tuesday, February 21 at 7 pm, students, faculty, and community members of Andrews University gathered at the Howard Performing Arts Center for a special presentation: paleontologist and professor Mary Higby Schweitzer, most well-known for leading the discovery of dinosaur proteins, blood vessels, and plausibly DNA inside fossilized bones, gave a speech as part of the Robert & Lillis Kingman Lecture Series on Science and Society. After a general welcome by Keith Mattingly, retired Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education; an appreciation of the Kingmans by Gary Burdick, the Dean of Research; and a speaker introduction by Lilly Widdicombe (senior, biology), Dr. Schweitzer took the stage. She jokingly declared, “I use dinosaurs as a gateway drug to the hard sciences.”

Dr. Schweitzer proceeded to captivate her audience with the overarching question, How do we know what we know about dinosaurs? She brought up the question of how much dinosaur knowledge was based on real fact, and how much was up to imagination. She explained how dinosaurs become fossils: first, of course, a dinosaur needs to die (“Sometimes they die because of predation; other times, they just fall over and die”). Next, some of the decaying processes must be interrupted in order for the bones to be preserved. In order to become fossils, dinosaurs must be buried very quickly so that scavengers don’t pick apart their bones. Dinosaurs then move up to the surface through weathering, erosion, or mountain building. Dr. Schweitzer explained that, although dinosaurs’ natural deterioration after death results in loss of information, many fossils are still preserved in amazing detail. For instance, she showed the audience the articulated bones of a bird inside a Mesozoic egg—one could see that the bird was about halfway through gestation before it was fossilized. In another photo, Dr. Schweitzer pointed out a dinosaur sitting on top of a nest. She explained that this indicated a warm-blooded dinosaur, since only warm-blooded animals sit on top of their nests to transfer heat from their bodies to their eggs. Another shocking image pictured a dinosaur that was fossilized in the process of giving birth.

Dr. Schweitzer described that we can tell how fast a dinosaur moved based on its femur-to-tibia ratio: the shorter the femur and the longer the tibia, the faster a dinosaur could run. “If we could make a T-rex the same size as a chicken,” she explained, “they’d probably tie in a race.”

Much of the research performed on dinosaur fossils involves comparing dinosaur bone structures to that of modern-day animals. For example, one might observe that today’s herbivorous animals (horses, cows, etc.) have cheeks, while carnivorous ones (dogs, cats, lions, etc.) do not. The same goes for herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs. One might also look at dinosaur teeth—shape, size, placement, and rooting—to ascertain what they ate. From fossil feces to bird comparisons (as birds are understood to be dinosaurs’ closest living relative), Dr. Schweitzer showed how paleontologists can perform this type of “forensic analysis” to discover what dinosaurs looked liked, how they interacted with their environment, what their parental tendencies were, where they lived, and what they ate.

Dr. Schweitzer’s lecture was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Andrews biology professor Dr. Tom Goodwin. Students were able to submit their queries to an online platform, and Dr. Schweitzer answered questions pertaining to dinosaurs and AI developments, dinosaurs and their relation to the Biblical timeline, the struggle between scripture and science, and more. When asked if she had any thoughts to share on Old-Earth versus New-Earth creationism, she referred to multiple lines of evidence that dinosaurs existed a long time ago and said, “If the Bible and the planet have the same author, how can they contradict?”

The Q&A period was followed by a thank-you by Lauren Butler (senior, biology) on behalf of the Andrews faculty and students. Afterwards, everyone filed out for a reception in the HPAC lobby to enjoy refreshments, cheese, and sweets. Dr. Schweitzer’s presentation gave much food for thought to all in attendance, which we can carefully chew between our “vegetarian” cheeks.

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.