Selected for a six-week experience organized by Montana State University, eight of the students are undergraduates, and one is working on his master's degree, said MSU paleontologist Frankie Jackson. Six of the undergraduates are MSU students. They are: Daniel Barta of Helena, Nate Carroll of Ekalaka, Jasmine Croghan of Centennial, Colo., Jordan Drost of Ferndale, Wash., Krista Brundridge of Orland Park, Ill., and Paige Madison of Manchester, Vt. They are joined by Annie Ayre of Shepherd, a student at Rocky Mountain College; and Chantell Bury of Glendive, a student at Dawson Community College. Ashley Proust is an MSU graduate student from Illinois and already conducting research in China.
A $145,000 grant from the National Science Foundation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will cover the entire cost of the experience and allow other students to participate in 2011 and 2012, Jackson said. She and MSU paleontologist David Varricchio selected the students and will supervise the research at the Natural History Museum in Hangzhou, China. Varricchio and Jackson are internationally recognized for their research in China, Argentina and other locations around the United States and Montana. Their Chinese colleague is Jin Xingsheng.
Students selected for the project will leave Montana in May and return at the end of June, Jackson said. While in China, they will focus much of their attention on a huge collection of fossil eggs. They'll spend part of their time in the laboratory and part of the time in the field. The students will also join geology students from Zhejiang University during field exercises.
Scientists have already collected more than 1,000 eggs in the province of Zhejiang, Jackson said. Although the eggs may have been laid by a carnivorous dinosaur, it remains unclear why they are so porous, Jackson added. Figuring that out will be part of the challenge for the college students.
"These eggs are relatively small, but they have a really thick shell and high porosity," Jackson said when she first announced the trip. "There are no comparable eggs today -- reptile or bird."
Jackson said it was hard to select the students who will participate in the study, but they had to be considering a career in science research. Possible majors included paleontology or related fields like geology, anthropology and life sciences. Preferably, they were sophomores and juniors who would be able to continue their research projects after returning to Montana. They had to have at least a 2.5 grade point average.
Carroll, for one, was chosen because he already had extensive experience in research and could serve as a mentor to the others, Jackson said. Carroll has worked on paleontology field crews since he was a teenager growing up on a southeast Montana ranch. Bury has been involved with the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, which her family established in Glendive.
"This will be a major thing," Bury said. "Besides volunteering at and managing the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, I haven't been out of the country to dig for dinosaurs yet."
Jackson said she was hoping for more applicants from two-year schools and tribal colleges, but she will try again next year. To increase the number, she and Varricchio may visit those schools to explain the opportunity in person.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org