Research Spotlight: Digital dino track a roadmap for saving at-risk natural history resources

Louis Jacobs

Research Spotlight: Digital dino track a roadmap for saving at-risk natural history resources

Portable laser scanning technology allows researchers to tote their latest fossil discovery from the field to the lab in the form of lightweight digital data stored on a laptop. But sharing that data as a 3D model with others requires standard formats that are currently lacking, say SMU paleontologists.

University researchers used portable laser scanning technology to capture field data of a huge 110 million-year-old Texas dinosaur track and then create to scale an exact 3D facsimile. They share their protocol and findings with the public – as well as their downloadable 145-megabyte model – in the online scientific journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

The model duplicates an actual dinosaur footprint fossil that is slowly being destroyed by weathering because it’s on permanent outdoor display, says SMU paleontologist Thomas L. Adams, lead author of the scientific article. The researchers describe in the paper how they created the digital model and discuss the implications for digital archiving and preservation. Click here for the download link.

“This paper demonstrates the feasibility of using portable 3D laser scanners to capture field data and create high-resolution, interactive 3D models of at-risk natural history resources,” write the authors.

“3D digitizing technology provides a high-fidelity, low-cost means of producing facsimiles that can be used in a variety of ways,” they say, adding that the data can be stored in online museums for distribution to researchers, educators and the public.

SMU paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs is one of the coauthors on the article. “The protocol for distance scanning presented in this paper is a roadmap for establishing a virtual museum of fossil specimens from inaccessible corners across the globe,” Jacobs said.

The full-resolution, three-dimensional digital model of the 24-by-16-inch Texas footprint is one of the first to archive an at-risk fossil, the SMU paleontologists say. They propose the term “digitype” for such facsimiles, writing in their article “High Resolution Three-Dimensional Laser-scanning of the type specimen of Eubrontes (?) Glenrosensis Shuler, 1935, from the Comanchean (Lower Cretaeous) of Texas: Implications for digital archiving and preservation.”

Laser scanning is superior to other methods commonly used to create a model because the procedure is noninvasive and doesn’t harm the original fossil, the authors say. Traditional molding and casting procedures, such as rubber or silicon molds, can damage specimens.

But the paleontologists call for development of standard formats to help ensure data accessibility. “Currently there is no single 3D format that is universally portable and accepted by all software manufacturers and researchers,” the authors write.

SMU’s digital model archives a fossil that is significant within the scientific world as a type specimen – one in which the original fossil description is used to identify future specimens. The fossil also has cultural importance in Texas. The track is a favorite from well-known, fossil-rich Dinosaur Valley State Park, where the iconic footprint draws tourists.

The footprint was left by a large three-toed, bipedal, meat-eating dinosaur, most likely the theropod Acrocanthosaurus. The dinosaur probably left the footprint as it walked the shoreline of an ancient shallow sea that once immersed Texas, Adams said. The track was described and named in 1935 as Eubrontes (?) glenrosensis. Tracks are named separately from the dinosaur thought to have made them, he explained.

“Since we can’t say with absolute certainty they were made by a specific dinosaur, footprints are considered unique fossils and given their own scientific name,” Adams said.

The fossilized footprint, preserved in limestone, was dug up in the 1930s from the bed of the Paluxy River in north central Texas about an hour’s drive southwest of Dallas. In 1933 it was put on prominent permanent display in Glen Rose, Texas, embedded in the stone base of a community bandstand on the courthouse square.

The footprint already shows visible damage from erosion, and eventually it will be destroyed by gravity and exposure to the elements, Adams said. The 3D model provides a baseline from which to measure future deterioration, he said.

Besides Adams and Jacobs, other co-authors on the article are paleontologists Christopher Strganac and Michael J. Polcyn in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU.

The research was funded by the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at SMU. – Margaret Allen

> Find more information, photos and links at the SMU Research blog

February 15, 2011|Research|

Calendar Highlights: Sept. 9, 2009

'Darwin's Evolving Legacy' logoThe joy of science: SMU professors from multiple schools and disciplines will participate in a faculty symposium on “The Year of Darwin” 9:30 a.m.-noon Sept. 12 in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. Participants include David Meltzer and Ronald Wetherington, Anthropology, Dedman College; Larry Ruben and John Wise, Biological Sciences, Dedman College; Louis Jacobs, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College; and Rhonda Blair, Theatre, Meadows School of the Arts. Presented by the Office of the Provost, Dedman College, Meadows School of the Arts, and Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. For more information, contact Pia Vogel, 214-768-1790, or visit the “Darwin’s Evolving Legacy” homepage.

Adobe churchInterdisciplinary Dialogue: The interplay between basic social science research and action research will be at the center of “Research on Latino Religious Topics: A Challenge to Scholars,” moderated by Harold Recinos, professor of church and society, Perkins School of Theology; and Hector Rivera, assistant professor, Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. The event begins Sept. 16 in the Prothro Hall Refectory (Room 104) with a light dinner at 6:30 p.m. and discussion 7-8:30 p.m.

Going green: The City of Dallas and more than 20 vendors will present sustainable products and other green solutions as part of SMU’s first Sustainability Fair for students, faculty and staff. The event takes place 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sept. 17 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom. Hors d’oeuvres will be served along with tea and lemonade. Presented by SMU Purchasing.

Recycling logoGodbey Lecture Series: Associate Professor of Hispanic American Literature Francisco Morán of Dedman College will discuss “Why Poetry Matters: Playing ‘Ajedrez’ (Chess) with Language” Sept. 17 at Maggiano’s NorthPark Center. The lecture begins at 11 a.m., followed by lunch at noon. The cost is $45 for Godbey members, $65 for non-members. Register online or call 214-768-2532.

September 9, 2009|Calendar Highlights|

Faculty in the News: Aug. 25, 2009

Geoff Orsak on KERA's 'Think'Nathan Cortez, Dedman School of Law, discussed the legal implications of insurers offering overseas networks for cheaper health and dental care with USA Today Aug. 24, 2009.

Matt Wilson, Political Science, took part in an online discussion of the mutual engagement between science and religion in the Dallas Morning News‘ Texas Faith blog Aug. 24, 2009. He also participated in a Texas Faith conversation on the connection between religion and politics with Theology Dean William Lawrence and Maguire Professor of Ethics Robin Lovin Aug. 18, 2009.

Louis Jacobs, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College, talked about how the end of the Angolan civil war has affected the search for dinosaur fossils in that country with Yahoo! News Aug. 21, 2009.

Geoffrey Orsak (above), Dean, Lyle School of Engineering, took part in a discussion about whether the design controversy around the Trinity toll road project can be solved by good engineering on KERA Channel 13’s “Think” Aug. 14, 2009.

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College, moderated a town hall debate on health care that included Texas Congressional representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas) and Pete Sessions (R-Dallas) at Cityplace Conference Center Aug. 17, 2009. It was one of the few meetings nationwide where a Democrat and Republican have appeared together. Coverage appeared in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram Aug. 18, 2009.

August 25, 2009|Faculty in the News|

Tune In: A gateway to the sciences

Lou Jacobs from the 'We Are SVP' videoLou Jacobs, well known on the Hilltop for his fossil research in Dedman College‘s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, is a scientific consultant on a new 33-minute video released by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Jacobs delivers a welcome message in the video, “We Are SVP,” which is introduced and narrated by “Law & Order” television star Sam Waterston.

The production is designed to educate students, teachers and the public about vertebrate paleontologists and the importance of their work. “Because we study fossils, especially dinosaurs, we capture the imagination of children, and that makes vertebrate paleontology a gateway for all science,” Jacobs says in the video. Also appearing is SMU geology student and President’s Scholar Karen Gutierrez.

Watch the video at the SVP website. video

November 21, 2008|Tune In|

Calendar Highlights: Oct. 17, 2008

Elemental music: Guest conductor Nicolás Pasquet of the Liszt Hochschule in Weimar, Germany, leads the Meadows Symphony Orchestra in “The Elements: Water” – a program featuring Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Debussy’s La Mer and Premiere Rhapsody, Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra, and Smetana’s The Moldau. The program debuts at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 and repeats Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. in Caruth Auditorium, Owen Arts Center. Tickets are $7 each for faculty, staff and students. For more information, contact the Meadows Ticket Office, 8-2787 (8-ARTS).

Seymour Island, AustraliaElection reflection: SMU Political Science Professors Cal Jillson, Dennis Simon and Harold Stanley will survey the political landscape and analyze the 2008 primary and general election campaigns in “Road to the White House 2008,” presented by SMU’s Godbey Lecture Series. The series begins Oct. 20 and repeats on consecutive Mondays through Nov. 10. Lecture at 11 a.m., lunch at noon each day at Maggiano’s North Park Center. Cost is $163 for members, $193 for nonmembers. Register online or call 8-2532.

Darwin Year preview: Earth Sciences Professor Louis Jacobs will discuss his fossil research in places ranging from St. Bart’s to Seymour Island, Antarctica, in the Godbey Lecture Series‘ “Islands and Life” – a preview of SMU’s 2009 event “Darwin’s Evolving Legacy.” The program takes place Oct. 22 in the Texana Room, DeGolyer Library. A 5:30 p.m. wine reception precedes the 6 p.m. lecture. Tickets are $45 for members and $70 for nonmembers. Register online or call 8-2532. (Top right, Seymour Island as photographed by graduate student researcher and blogger Chris Strganac.)

Make a racket: The Stanford Championships tennis tournament comes to SMU Oct. 22-Oct. 26 in the Turpin Tennis Center. Eight legendary names in men’s tennis, including Boris Becker, Jim Courier and Mark Philippoussis, compete for the title and $150,000 in prize money. In addition, Anna Kournikova will compete in Mixed Doubles matches. Tickets are available at www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com or call 877-332-TIXX (8499).

Coming of age: The Hughes-Trigg Student Center celebrates its 21st birthday with a “responsible celebration” Oct. 23. Stop by the Student Center for cake, fun and games.

M.L.S. information session: Learn more about SMU’s Master of Liberal Studies program at an information session 6-7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 in Human Resources Training Room #208, Expressway Tower, 6116 N. Central Expy. Refreshments will be provided. RSVP to the M.L.S. program.

Lar Lubovitch Dance CompanyIn McFarlin Auditorium:

  • Oct. 17-18: TITAS presents the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company (bottom right) in its 40th anniversary tour at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets, call TITAS at
  • October 17, 2008|Calendar Highlights|
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