No one knows the type of dinosaur that laid the eggs or why the eggshell is so thick. 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 and fellow paleontologist David Varricchio received a $145,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's program, "International Research Experience for Students (IRES)." This three-year project provides nine undergraduate students each year an opportunity to conduct research in China. The program is now in its second year. Students who want to accompany Jackson to China in June 2011 should apply by Dec. 1. All expenses, including travel, are paid by the grant.
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. Although the research focuses on paleontology, students in all science majors are encouraged to apply. The primary requirements include a 2.5 GPA, a demonstrated ability to follow through on projects, and an interest in science research. The purpose of the trip is to provide research and cultural experience that will be useful to students' future careers.
Jackson and Varricchio will begin reviewing applications by Jan. 1, with phone interviews and final selection announced by Feb. 1.
"We are pretty excited about this project," Jackson said. "The students who participated in the 2010 trip were outstanding and exceeded all expectations, both in their research accomplishments and as ambassadors from Montana colleges."
Selected students will leave Montana in late May and return by the end of June. They will conduct research at the Natural History Museum in Hangzhou southwest of Shanghai, Jackson said. They will 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 Dinosaur Eggs and Education: A Student Research Experience in China" or the project Website
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org