USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum Director Kenneth Carpenter has won an international award for a research paper he published on allosaurus fossils at Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.
Carpenter's research addressed a challenge that faces scientists who study the remains of long-extinct animals.Namely, how much variation in structure can occur in a single species, and how much change indicates an entirely different species?
His work, published electronically in Paleontological Research, the journal of the Paleontological Society of Japan, was the most frequently accessed paper for 2011. For that, Carpenter was honored with the UniBio Press Award. UniBio Press is publisher of several biology-oriented academic journals.
In translating his research into layman's terms, Carpenter explained that examples of individual variation are easy to see in everyday life. Humans can be tall or short, slender or stocky. Age and growth also make differences. "A German Shepherd puppy looks a lot different from an adult. A puppy has a shorter snout and bigger paws proportionally," he explained.
Using skull specimens from Cleveland-Lloyd had some distinct advantages, Carpenter said. First of all, there are a lot of them. Second, they all come from the same time in the same geologic strata.
These fossils are not separated by great distances or by hundreds of thousands or millions of years.
In studying the fossil skulls, he did find variations, including two with unusually short snouts - "bulldog allosaurs," he called them.
A little less than two years ago, when he was interviewing to become director, Carpenter told the search committee that one of his four major goals was to achieve international recognition for the museum and its scientific research.