Academy opens robo-dino exhibit | The Triangle

Academy opens robo-dino exhibit

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University has a new traveling exhibit, Dinosaurs Unearthed, which opened to the public Oct. 12. The exhibit features 12 animatronic dinosaurs, not including the Tyrannosaurus rex outside the building. There are also more than a dozen fossil casts as well as interactive stations. Admission to the museum is free to members of the Drexel community with a valid DragonCard, though there is a separate $3 admission fee for the exhibit, which is located near the Butterfly Room.

The dinosaurs, designed by the eponymous company, use a combination of custom mechanical technology and a joint system that allows for realistic movement. Some of the dinosaurs have both fossil specimens and animatronic models. There are buttons that visitors can use to make the models move.

“It was a pleasure to work with [Dinosaurs Unearthed],” Director of Exhibits Jennifer Sontchi said.

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Setting up the exhibit was an undertaking the size of the dinosaurs themselves. According to Sontchi, it took 13 people six days to set up the creatures, which came in five containers weighing 20,000 pounds each. The T. rex outside is 26,000 pounds by itself and is 40 feet long. The group used more than 45,000 pounds of rented equipment.

The exhibit features more than just moving machines. There is a size chart that visitors can use to compare their height to that of various species. Several hands-on sites allow people to feel fossils and to go on a simulated dig. In the next few days, five iPads will be installed that will let guests spin a three-dimensional model of the dinosaurs as well as hatch an egg.

Staff at the Academy hope that visitors soak it all in. “[I want people] to be happy they came, [but I also] want them to ask questions [either online] when they get home [or] the docents,” Ted Daeschler, the associate curator of vertebrate zoology at the Academy and an associate professor at Drexel, said.

“There’s a ton of information,” Sontchi said. “We don’t usually do this kind of thing, but the flesh-out dinosaurs help kids make a connection.”

Visitors to the exhibit, assuming they aren’t paleontologists or dinosaur enthusiasts, will be in for a few surprises. The general concept of dinosaurs is that of cold-blooded reptiles covered in scales, but recent discoveries have challenged this. For example, the growth rates of theropods (carnivores from the Cretaceous Period, which lasted from 145 to 66 million years ago) were like those of warm-blooded creatures. They also had feathers during some life stages. Small predatory dinosaurs and 90 percent of modern birds share behaviors, such as males of the species guarding and brooding eggs.

“[Dinosaurs Unearthed] certainly tried to incorporate the latest ideas, specifically as [they] relate to feathers and protofeathers. But we have to keep in the back of our minds that these are still best guesses,” Daeschler said.

When discussing the exhibit, Sontchi pointed out that if peacocks lived tens of millions of years ago, we would never guess their vibrant colors.

Still, the exhibit claims that current research is part of the second great age of dinosaur discoveries; although there are fewer big discoveries, technology allows us to learn their coloration, behaviors and anatomy.

“With technology, we can figure out color, texture, what the horns were like,” Daeschler continued. “What’s fun about paleontology, and really any science, is that we’re learning new ways to study it.”

The exhibit will be open to visitors until March 30, 2014.