Category Archives: Notes from the Paleo Prep Lab

See What’s Going On!

Special thanks to museum volunteer Dick Webb! Visitors can now see the specimens as they are being prepared in the air abrasion chamber.  The previous commercial-grade unit kept workers from breathing the harmful dust created by the process, but it also kept visitors from seeing what we were doing in there.  That’s because the box was all metal except for the glass viewing window on the technician’s side.  With a collaborative design effort by Dick Webb, Lisa Herzog and the folks in the Exhibits department  here at the museum (who also built the box) we now have a fantastic custom built unit that allows viewing from both sides of the abrasion chamber.

Stop by and see what’s going on in the lab!  And see what’s going on INSIDE the micro-abrasion chamber for a change.

Abrasion box

Gigantic T. rex! at Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium

Me with Matt Brown (Chief Preparator, UT Austin) and Mike Eklund (Vehement Pioneer of Methods & Materials in Paleontology) at the base of the world’s largest T. rex in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada

FPCS2013The 6th annual FPCS in Drumheller Canada was a wonderful trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum and Dinosaur Provincial Park.  Had a chance to meet and socialize with colleagues from many institutions.  This conference has doubled in size in the six years since the first meeting in 2008 at Petrified Forest National Park.

The mornings were filled with talks on how collections storage and preparation techniques have changed over the history of paleontology.  As collections grow and age proper care is required to maintain what has already been collected, as well as how to care for newly acquired specimens.  In the afternoons we were able to tour the museum, collections, laboratories and offices as well as participate in hands on workshops relating to methods on preparation and collections.  This is the best part for me.  I love to see how other institutions operate, talk to others about problems  and often get great tips on how to improve methods in the care of specimens in my own institution.

Storage for unopened and unprepared field jackets. Each field jacket is marked with specimen information, collection data, as well as the weight of the jacket. Some of the field jackets are over 1000lbs!
The storage space where finished specimens live. These are all cataloged and documented. The “type” specimens are locked in a separate room. The Tyrrell has many large specimens stored on open shelving like this, but also a lot of smaller things in cabinets with drawers.

The Collections at the Tyrrell are filled with many specimens that still require preparation, and many that have been beautifully prepared in their enormous lab space.  The space is equipped with rolling tables and mobile dust collection units.  So much of what they work on in here is large blocks filled with dinosaur bones or marine reptiles that open, modular space is essential.  A 3 ton hoist is located at one end of the lab for moving the large jacket from pallets onto the worktables.  There is another, smaller lab space equipped with microscope workstations for more detailed, finer preparation.

This window looks out into the exhibit space. The preparator’s call their lab the “fish bowl”. A common nick-name for public labs. Always on display, like fish in a bowl…
Another view of the main preparation lab. A lot of big dinosaurs and marine reptiles get worked on in here. They need lots of space, and can have several work stations with large specimens going at a time.


Finished the molding of the two claws with success.  Was kind of a nail biter when the Vinac did not initially appear to be working as a separator between the two halves of the mold, but with a little bit of coaxing, the two halves opened up and the claws were perfectly in tact on the in inside.  Casting went quickly with 7 casts of each claw finished in one day.  See below for the final steps in this process and a little bit of art at the end.

First side done. Ready to pour second side after a coating of Vinac (B15) as a separator between the two sides. Wouldn’t want the next pour of rubber to adhere to the first pour. The claws would then be trapped inside.
Mold is complete and specimens are undamaged. Success.
Plaster is in and the cast is curing. Using a little light bulb heat to help promote the curing process.
Just like the original but in albino form. First of seven casts. Still a few more to make, but definitely a good start.
Getting crafty with the final products. Next step is painting then we will be sending them out to our generous sponsors. Thanks everyone for helping to make a successful 2012 collecting season at the Crystal Geyser Quarry!

Claw Molding

Finally getting to the molding process of two of the Falcarius claws collected at the Crystal Geyser Quarry.  Reconstructed the missing tip on one and added just a smidgeon at the end of the other to complete it.  Looking good so far.  We’ll see in 24 hours how the molding material set up and get to pouring the other side.  Then on to the casting.

Two claws set up for molding. These specimens have been carefully surrounded by clay along the flat edge of the claw. This is the best spot to have a seem in the two-part mold.
Claws and mixed rubber ready to go. The clay base has been surrounded by a clay wall and sealed. A groove has been created on the flat surface of clay surrounding the claws. If you look closely you will see pointed numbering that will be a permanent marking to identify the specimens.
The mixed rubber in liquid form was first painted on the surface to ensure that no air bubbles will be trapped. The remainder of the rubber was then poured into the mold, with a little bit of giggling to release any additional bubbles. Now the mold will sit for 24 hours (the curing time of the rubber).

Claw Bones in Prep

The field expedition to the Mussentuchit and the Crystal Geyser Quarry in Utah was a success.  Sometimes spending three weeks together with the same small group of people can be questionable.  One person can ruin the entire mood.  This was not one of those trips and I am happy to say that many specimens were collected and brought safely back to the museum for preparation.

I think you found a claw Alex (Juarez). Bring it back to the Lab for preparation

The first task was to  determine which specimens should be placed at the top of the preparation list.  The three unguals collected at the crystal geyser quarry were selected as highest priority.  One of them will be molded and cast as a thank you to our rockethub feulers.

Nice find. Too bad it is missing the tip