Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
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OSU-CHS News > 2016

Aug. 4, 2016

Medical students join hunt for bones of Montana’s 'good mother lizard'

Holly Woodward Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy, left, medical student Mallory Hall, graduate student Gwyneth Volkmann, research assistant Lindsey Yann, graduate student Christian Heck and medical student Greg Aran take a break during a Montana dinosaur dig. Holly Woodward Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy, left, medical student Mallory Hall, graduate student Gwyneth Volkmann, research assistant Lindsey Yann, graduate student Christian Heck and medical student Greg Aran take a break during a Montana dinosaur dig.

Second-year medical student Greg Aran recently slogged through grime and camped out for three weeks to fulfill his childhood dream of digging for dinosaur bones.

“It was the longest I camped out in my life and the least hygienic I have ever been in my life too. But the most important thing to me was the dinosaurs,” he said. “I have always been thoroughly interested in them since I was a kid.”

Holly Woodward Ballard, Ph.D., paleontologist and assistant professor of anatomy at OSU-CHS, takes a group of volunteers every summer to excavate dinosaur fossils of the Maiasaura peeblesorum, the “good mother lizard” that lived millions of years ago in Montana.
A recent published study based on her work provides the most detailed reconstruction of dinosaur life history ever published through the examination of the fossil bone microstructure, or histology, of 50 Maiasaura tibiae to determine growth rate, metabolism, age at death, sexual maturity, skeletal maturity and length of time for a species to reach adult size.

Aran and second-year medical student Mallory Hall volunteered to join Ballard for this summer’s dig while in her anatomy class last fall. They were joined by anatomy and vertebrate paleontology graduate students Christian Heck and Gwyneth Volkmann and research assistant Lindsey Yann.

“It was great having them,” Ballard said. “I think they gained a lot of perspective concerning comparative anatomy. Dinosaurs had the same kinds of bones we do, they just looked a bit different.”
Aran said he enjoyed the experience and would do it again if he could.

“I think it reinforced my anatomy knowledge since I had to use it every single day while digging,” he said. “And in both paleontology and medicine, one has to be patient and stick to the process and procedures of a task. I was much more patient out there digging that I usually am. I think that experience will help me down the road in my professional career.”

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