Montana State University

Montana college students sought for dinosaur egg research in China

October 28, 2009 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Paleontologists have collected more than 1,000 eggs from southeast China, including this one. The shells are unusually thick, but porous. (Photo courtesy of Frankie Jackson).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- College students from around Montana will head to southeast China next summer to examine dinosaur eggs that have an unusually thick, but porous shell. A small opening at the top of these eggs may also provide clues to the hatching process, said Montana State University paleontologist Frankie Jackson.

No one knows the type of dinosaur that laid the eggs or why the eggs are so porous. Figuring that out will be part of the challenge for students who are selected for a six-week research and cultural experience through MSU, Jackson said.

Jackson recently received a $145,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a three-year project that will involve nine undergraduate students a year in the Chinese research she is conducting with fellow MSU paleontologist David Varricchio and their Chinese colleague Jin Xingsheng. Recruiting now, Jackson said students who want to accompany them to China in 2010 should apply by Dec. 1.

The opportunity is open to college students across Montana, but Jackson said she would especially like to hear from sophomores and juniors who attend tribal colleges or two-year institutions and may not have many opportunities to conduct research. Applicants should major in paleontology or related fields like geology, anthropology and life sciences. They should have at least a 2.5 grade point average. Students should be mature, interested in science research and have a proven reputation for completing assignments.

Jackson and Varricchio will narrow down the applications and send them to a committee. The committee will then recommend students to Jackson and Varricchio who will make the final selection. The NSF grant will pay all expenses, including travel, for students who are selected for the project.

"We are pretty excited about this project," Jackson said.

Selected students will leave Montana in June and return in July. They will conduct research at the Natural History Museum in Hangzhou southwest of Shanghai, Jackson said. They'll focus much of their attention on a huge collection of fossil eggs, spending part of their time in the laboratory and part of the time in the field. If they find additional eggs, they may help excavate them.

"These eggs are relatively small, but they have a really thick shell and high porosity," Jackson said. "There are no comparable eggs today -- reptile or bird."

Scientists have already collected more than 1,000 eggs in the province of Zhejiang, said Jackson who has worked with the Chinese since about 2005. The area is humid with thick vegetation, more like Georgia than Eastern Montana where many MSU paleontologists are used to working.

After returning to Montana, the students will work with mentors at their institutions to prepare presentations and papers about their findings, Jackson said.

For more information, visit "China Research Experience" at the MSU Department of Earth Sciences Web site.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or