Student sculpts dinosaur bone models

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An OU student is painting history as he works with the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History to create and build the museum’s first juvenile Apatosaurus dinosaur exhibit.

Garrett Stowe, sculpting graduate student, was hired by the museum as temporary help to give the “Little Apatosaurus Project” a jump-start. Stowe has been sculpting, modeling and painting bones to take on the appearance of real fossils.

Other students have volunteered with the project to learn the process.

So far, the project has been under way for nearly two months. In that time, Stowe and Kyle Davies, museum preparator, have worked to give the dinosaur as realistic an appearance as possible.

The Apatosaurus is a long-neck sauropod from the Jurassic Period, said Nick Czaplewski, vertebrae paleontology curator.

Formerly known as the Brontosaurus, the Apatosaurus could reach up to 75 feet fully grown, according to the National Geographic website.

This Apatosaurus is estimated to be one to two years old, and will be about 12- to 13-feet long from head to tail, Davies said.

The museum is in possession of a few, but not all, of the juvenile’s bones. Missing bones are estimated and sketched by Davies, Stowe said.

Clay models are made and then scanned and printed by 3D machines into hard plastic models in conjunction with OU Engineering, Davies said.

After the plastic models are made, molds are created from the models out of silicone, rubber and plaster. The molds will be used by the museum for up to 10 years, Stowe said. The new models are made and set up with the rubber mold, and Stowe paints them to look like authentic fossils. Other museum staff and volunteers are working to learn this process.

The museum will be making eight of these models and possibly trading them with other museums or selling them, Stowe said.

Because of how fast the project is moving, it is an expensive process, Davies said.

“It is a large budget project, partly because we are pushing it along,” Davies said. “It is based on donated money.”

Bones of the baby Apatosaurus were uncovered in the 1930s and 1940s and have been housed in collections since, Czaplewski said. The casts are now being made because of new funding through donations and an increased interest in dinosaurs.

Stowe said this job has also helped him to refine his technique and further his skills while doing something he enjoys.

“I’ve had a bunch of really crappy jobs, you know like just to support yourself,” Stowe said. “To have a job doing what I’m studying is really rewarding.”

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