Students Discover: Prehistoric Forensics & Dinosaur Evolution

Join Drs Terry Gates and Lindsay Zanno, paleontologists at NC State University and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, to learn how scientists piece together million year-old murder mysteries.

Fossils aren’t the remains of living animals ─ they’re the remains of dead ones. What happens to a carcass between death and discovery is a vital part of studying the fossil record of life. These experiments in prehistoric forensics are what we call the science of TAPHONOMY.

The Paleonotology and Geology Research Laboratory of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the premier centers for paleontological research in the Southeast. The museum’s team of paleontologists, students and volunteers conduct annual expeditions to collect dinosaur and other vertebrate fossils from multiple field sites across North Carolina, the Southwest and abroad. The fossils they bring back from field expeditions are removed from their plaster jackets and prepared live in the exhibit hall of the museum’s new high tech wing – The Nature Research Center.

Based on this work, you will engage in real research on dinosaur taphonomy, get dirty with new fossil discoveries and help co-create, implement and refine modules aligned with the NC Middle School curriculum standards. These modules will include resources for immersing students in the data collection, underlying science concepts and the statistical analysis of the data. In an effort to engage the public, you will also organize community events in your district to educate parents and community members. Finally, you will work with researchers and educators from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the NC Science House to implement professional development designed to help other teachers learn to engage their students in citizen science projects.

These Fellows will conduct a three-day workshop for larger groups of teachers during the summer following their one-year traditional fellowship. Beyond these requirements, the Wake County Kenan Fellows selected for this project will work with the district to develop a model, intensive, 12-day Summer Bridge and Saturday Academy program for at-risk rising 9th graders that incorporates the “Citizen Science” module.


Dr. Terry Gates & Dr. Lindsay Zanno, NC State and NC Museum of Natural Sciences


Raleigh, NC


National Science Foundation, Math Science Partnership Grant