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Famed OHIO paleontologist to speak at Front Room Café

Dinosaur researcher to appear on five National Geographic Channel programs in as many days

By Matt Bates

Oct. 8, 2009 

Ohio University’s world-renowned paleontologist Lawrence Witmer, Ph.D., will present “Fleshing Out Dinosaur Evolution” at the Baker University Center Front Room Café Wednesday, Oct. 14, as part of Ohio University’s new Science Café series. The free presentation begins at 5 p.m. and is open to the university community and general public.

Witmer often appears on television shows and documentaries on both the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel, where he speaks as an expert on prehistoric anatomy. Over the next week, five National Geographic Channel programs will feature interviews with Witmer, including:

  •  “Prehistoric Predators: Terror Birds” – Friday, Oct. 9, 12:00 p.m.
  •  “Bizarre Dinosaurs” – Sunday, Oct. 11, 8:00 p.m.
  •  “Prehistoric Predators: Razor Jaws” – Monday, Oct. 12, 8:00 p.m.
  •  “Prehistoric Predators: Killer Pig” – Monday, Oct. 12, 9:00 p.m.
  •  “Bizarre Dinosaurs” – Tuesday, Oct. 13, 8:00 p.m.


Witmer, professor of anatomy and Chang Ying-Chien Professor of Paleontology at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, was recently awarded a $180,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue his work on “Brain evolution in archosaurs: New implications for scaling, function, and the evolution of the modern conditions in birds and crocodilians.”

This grant is Witmer’s latest in a series of NSF-sponsored research projects, each of which has focused on a different anatomical system of dinosaurs. This award allows Witmer to further explore the brain and apply what he has uncovered about the size and temperature regulation of archosaur brains to new topics, such as how brain evolution influenced flight in the ancestors of birds. Altogether, Witmer has received seven NSF grants. 

Witmer’s lab was among the first to apply CT scanning and computer visualization to paleontological research. He uses the technology to create a 3-D image of bone cavities, allowing him to “fill in” the missing soft tissue—a procedure he calls “fleshing out” the fossils. These methods are now being adopted by other researchers. 

Using these technologies, Witmer also compares the anatomy of modern animals with prehistoric fossils to reveal how ancient beasts may have lived and evolved. In his words, this research looks beyond “the narrow time-plane in which we live” to broaden our understanding of previous anatomical systems.

Witmer’s continued funding reflects on several qualities of his research that appeal to the NSF: broad intellectual appeal, development of new applications for existing technology, specialized training for high school and college students, and public education.

Witmer views his public and television appearances not only as a way of giving back to the taxpayers who fund a lot of his research, but also as a way to engage the public with science during a time when the numbers of science-related professionals in the U.S. are declining.

“It might be the most important thing I do: to interact with kids and their parents,” says Witmer. “I actually try to pay more attention to the adults,” says Witmer, expressing that adults need to be educated and excited about science to sustain scientific curiosity in children and to support science education in public school curricula.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016