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Triceratops project

I guess it's time to mention what has been eating up a lot of my time lately 
and why I've been pretty low-key. Here at NMNH we have been developing our 
Triceratops project which will be discussed, in some form, on CNN tonight and 
Saturday and Wired-Online, to start and we anticipate more press coverage as 
things go on.

The project starts in a three-fold manner and will expand from there.

1. First, we are in the process of dis-assembling the Triceratops mount in our 
dinosaur hall. This is the Triceratops, the first one I believe and the one the 
whole concept of Triceratops is based on, that was mounted by Norman Boss and 
Charles Gilmore between 1903-1905, under the direction of Hatcher, who 
collected the material and pieced it together from multiple specimens. The 
mount has been on display for almost a century and is in great need of 
conservation. We will be making casts of the whole skeleton and remounting a 
cast in a new posture - to be determined- and as part of an as yet undetermined 
modification of our permanent dinosaur hall. The dis-assembly is about 50%+ 
done and Steve Jabo and Pete Kroehler have been doing a wonderful job with this 
aspect. The original material will then be available for research and study. 
Paleobiology chair Richard Benson, who used to work on ostracodes, is heading 
up the project and Mike Brett-Surman is our in-house expert on things!
 dinosaurian, with myself and a few others contributing as well. Linda Deck is 
the project manager and exhibit developer working on various aspects of the 

2. The new skeleton mount and lots of additional stuff will become part of the 
big Dinofest in 2000, representing the Smithsonian and NMNH at that event with 
other materials. More as Dinofest and the project develop on this phase as 
things happen.

3. And now for my part. We are doing something I have been wanting to do and 
have been planning for 10 years or so. We have surface scanned enough of the 
elements to construct an accurate virtual version of the whole skeleton. The 
scanning is just complete and the first bones are starting to come in. Lisa 
Federici of Scansite handled the arrangements for the scanning and I, as the 
local technological coordinator for this part of the project, am working 
closely with her and Art Andersen, who also has been wanting to do this for 
years as well. Art has worked a lot with Sereno's material over the past few 
years. The first bone, the humerus, came in yesterday and it looks beautiful. 
Basically, we'll be creating the first accurate digital dinosaur. 

This virtual data will allow us to prototype materials at a fraction of the 
size - imagine a fully accurate skull that's 18 inches long and that you don't 
need a forklift to look at and measure. Accuracy is sub-mm. We plan to 
prototype and generate materials at various sizes, as well as do a large amount 
of functional analyses using an assembled skeleton in virtual space. We 
currently are brainstorming some ideas of exactly what we want to do here. For 
example, we are planning, if all goes well, to prototype a 1/5 (more or less) 
scale version of the whole skeleton.

The potential for using data from this later phase for testing functional 
hypotheses and trying out vaious postures and doing animations is immense and 
we're looking forward to doing these and additional things for research, 
education and exhibition. The scans I've seen so far are incredibly accurate 
and clearly show the small fractures in the bones, etc. We are also looking at 
this technology as a way to preserve these one-of-a-kind items. I have a paper 
with Art, Dave Weishampel, Diego Rasskin and Gene Hunt for the newest Dinofest 
volume that will cover lots of this and I'm starting to organize volumes on 
lots of this technology based on the symposium we had at SVP this year, which 
had a number of great talks.

Anyway, things are starting to expand tremendously and I'll keep you posted as 
things develop. I'm looking forward to having a small cast of the head on my 
desk here and at home. It's pretty exciting here right now.

Ralph Chapman, NMNH