Bones are assistant professor of biology and paleontologist Michael D’Emic's, Ph.D., keys to unlocking some of the mysteries of dinosaur growth and evolution.

Dinosaurs loom large in our imagination. They star in movies and museum exhibitions. Their scale, variety and abrupt extinction after millions of years on Earth make them nearly mythical. For those who are curious about what it’s like to study such creatures for a living, paleontologist Michael D’Emic, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Adelphi, has news for you: It’s fun.

Dr. D’Emic is not alone in thinking this. Since joining the faculty last fall, he has attracted a following. Six students currently work in his lab, and many more have requested to. In June, he will travel to Utah with five students to lead Adelphi’s first paleontological dig.

Bones are Dr. D’Emic’s keys to unlocking some of the mysteries of dinosaur growth and evolution. “It’s not just that bones are chunks of mineral inside our bodies, they are full of cells, blood vessels and nerves,” he explained. By examining fossilized dinosaur bones, which retain impressions of the blood vessels and bone cells, he can create a three-dimensional understanding of dinosaurs.

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Why are the findings so significant? Dr. D’Emic explained that “many dinosaurs are believed to have had some degree of paternal care based on their bone microstructure or the discovery of individuals sitting on fossilized nests.” This new specimen indicates that some dinosaurs were precocial—or largely self-sufficient from birth.

In an interview on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Dr. D’Emic told reporter Christopher Joyce that the discovery is part of a renaissance in sauropod research fueled by newly found fossils—including the celebrated titanosaur now on view at the American Museum of Natural History.

That famous museum also lends fossils to scientists like Dr. D’Emic, whose lab at Adelphi is teeming with specimens—large ones from the museum and others of all shapes and sizes that Dr. D’Emic shipped directly from excavation sites.

Last year, for the first time, Dr. D’Emic traveled with a team to a dig in Madagascar. Primarily, though, he digs at U.S. sites in Wyoming and Utah.

Dr. D’Emic discovered his penchant for paleontology in high school when he participated in a summer archaeology project to excavate what is still the most complete American mastodon fossil—not far from his hometown of Beacon, New York. He took his time to jump into the field, though, even choosing to major in physics in college. Still, he fondly remembered “this really cool experience of going on a dig.”

Today, digs are just one part of Dr. D’Emic’s quest. “It’s funny that you can be dissecting birds one day and digging in the dirt another day and visiting a museum another day, and all these different facets combine” in asking and answering paleontological questions, he said.

This piece was published in AU VU Spring 2016 issue.

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