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JONATHAN: Hello everyone and welcome to Pulsar, a podcast from the Museum of Science. I'm your host Jonathan Fanning, and today I'm bringing you "Stories from the Museum," where we ask Museum staff to help explain some of the quirky, odd things you occasionally experience or learn about while working at the Museum.
Today we're focusing on our dinosaur exhibit and specifically on Cliff, our 23 foot long, 65 million year old fossil Triceratops. And to help me explain Cliff's significance and importance is Kaylan who actually helped to unbox Cliff when he first arrived at the museum. Kaylan, would you mind introducing yourself?
KAYLAN: Hi, Jonathan, this is Kaylan. I'm the manager of education programs at the Museum of Science.
JONATHAN: Fantastic and I brought you here today to talk about Cliff a little bit but also to help explain something that has never really made sense to me since I have been working at the museum.
Which is why we have two almost identical Triceratops in our dinosaur exhibit because currently we have sort of three major features. We've got our giant T Rex, and then we have Cliff, and then we have another Triceratops that is basically the same as Cliff in that exhibit. So why is it that we have two of those?
KAYLAN: Well, that's a great question and my first answer is "why not?" The more dinosaurs we have the better right? Triceratops is actually a really interesting dinosaur. It's really cool, it's called Triceratops because it has three horns. So it has two horns that come out of its head kind of above its eyes and then one horn on its nose.
So for me a triceratops kind of looks a little bit, like a turtle and a rhinoceros and a unicorn, the front of its mouth is shaped almost like a bird's beak. And that's really good for, eating leaves and plants and cycads. But one of the most distinct parts of the way a Triceratops looks is its skull. So behind its horns on the top of its head it has what's called a frill and that is a plate of bone that has cool spikes around it and it just looks really interesting. It has a really cool shaped head.
So the reason we have two triceratops and one of the biggest differences between them is that one of the Triceratops is a model.So that means that it's made out of plastic or fiberglass. And it's not an actual fossil, but it's the same dimensions, it looks the same. It's even painted to be the same color as what we often find fossils looking like. When we discovered hhem in nature.
KAYLAN: And then the other Triceratops that we have, that we've named Cliff, is an actual dinosaur fossil. So this is a fossil that was dug up from the earth many years ago and it's one of the most complete Triceratops skeletons that exist in the world right now.
JONATHAN: Cool, all right, so you were actually present at the unboxing of cliff. So set the scene for us a little. What were you doing and what happened on Cliff's first day in the Museum?
KAYLAN: Definitely, so the year was 2008. And I had just joined the staff at the Museum of Science, not in the education department, but actually in the collections department.
And what that means in a museum setting is that I work with the museum's collection of natural history, artifacts, art, and other interesting scientific specimens. And the interesting thing about working in museum collections is that there's a lot of on the job training, so figuring out how to catalog objects or how to clean them.
And I got a call one day from my boss, Carolyn, and she said, "hey, can you please meet me down at the loading dock? We just received a crate and I need to train you how to do an object assessment."
KAYLAN: So my first response was yes, of course, I will be right there.
And my second response was, where am I going? Because I had just started at the museum, it's a really big building. There's multiple loading docks and I had no idea how to get where I was going. So I was just kind of generally confused but ready to learn.
So, I eventually found out where I was going and walked into a room that had a big wooden crate in it. This crate was probably at least 20 feet long and 15 feet tall, maybe even bigger than that. So my boss said, "okay, I'm gonna train you how to examine an object and see if it has been damaged during transit."
And I was like "okay, what am I even looking at? What is this?" Because the crate was so tall you had to climb up a big ladder to look inside. So she said, "well just climb up the ladder and look inside, and tell me your initial observations. It'll be obvious if anything is broken."
And I still was kind of confused, I had never done something like this before. And to add another element of confusion and emotion is that I am afraid of heights, so climbing up on a tall ladder to look into something, to look inside was a little bit scary for me.
So, I put my pen and pencil down or my pen and paper. I climbed up the ladder and was starting to feel a little bit nervous and had no idea what would be inside the crate. It was big enough to be something like a jet engine or, I don't know some piece of equipment or something.
But when I looked inside, I will never forget the shock and surprise that I experienced looking into a crate and seeing Cliff's skull. So this is a 65 million year old Triceratops skull and I had no warning in advance that we were even getting a triceratops. I had no idea what I was even doing.
And that's when I learned that we would be assembling a triceratops and changing our dinosaur exhibit at the museum.
JONATHAN: Wow, so jumping forward in time a little bit is this how all object discovery happens at the Museum? Where they just get some random new person to come in and look inside a massive box?
KAYLAN: Well, that was also the day that I learned that my boss Carolyn was a little bit of a jokester. So that was part of my training, to say hey we are going to come across all sorts of weird, interesting, cool, fun things. This is one of the biggest cool things we have ever gotten and she wanted me to experience that emotion.
KAYLAN: But, no, normally when the Museum collects objects they do it very intentionally. The cool thing about Cliff is that someone donated him to us.
KAYLAN: So we were actively looking for a triceratops. Someone decided, hey as Indiana Jones might say, "that belongs in a museum."
JONATHAN: And like Indiana Jones, it was delivered in a giant wooden box.
KAYLAN: Definitely and the rest of the boxes, the rest of the crates, came in the following days and weeks. And that kind of launched a big construction project, really, not only to make a new exhibit and kind of clear out the space and do exhibit designs, but to actually construct the skeleton itself.
JONATHAN.: Yeah, how long did that take you?
KAYLAN: I think it took a few months before we could actually put the skeleton together we had to clean the bones. And that was my job as the newbie, it was my job to remove quite a lot of mold from especially this vertebral column.
There's a lot of nooks and crannies where mold had collected. So we wanted to make sure that we removed that before it went on exhibit, not only so that it looked nice, but so that it didn't create more issues in the future. And although I'm not a part of that department anymore, I know that they continually clean Cliff every couple of months to remove just regular dust and check for mold.
JONATHAN: Yeah, so that explains how one Triceratops arrived in our exhibits. Why is it that we have two of them?
KAYLAN: Yeah, so why did we keep the model when we got a quote unquote "real dinosaur?" My answer for that is that science is all about making observations. It's all about making inferences.
And it's all about drawing conclusions based on the evidence that we have. And one of the ways that we do that in science is by using and developing models. So there are all sorts of things in science that lend themselves really well to modelling, and I think astronomy is a great example of that.
There are so many things in astronomy that we can't touch or perceive in the ways that we normally would observe something else, like a black hole for example.
The original Triceratops was a model of what we were pretty sure Triceratops would look like if we were able to get one.
So now that we do have one, and we've had it for 12 years, something that's really interesting for visitors to be able to do is to look at both of those skeletons side by side and make comparisons. And look at how the model informed our understanding before we had an actual fossil.
KAYLAN: But like I said before, the more dinosaurs the better.
JONATHAN: Absolutely, and what's something that you have learned by looking at these various different dinosaurs or through this whole process?
KAYLAN: Great question. I didn't really know anything about dinosaurs going into this. My background was in biology but I had done a lot of work with insects and conservation, so I didn't really know anything about dinosaurs.
And one of the first things I learned about Cliff is where he came from. He was dug up in Montana and I've been to Montana. It's a beautiful state, but I didn't really understand why there would be so many dinosaur fossils in that part of the world.
KAYLAN: What's so special about Montana 65 million years ago? And what I learned is that there was a sea in that whole kind of middle section of the United States. So it was it was oceanfront property for a lot of dinosaurs to hang out, and, have a totally different type of environment.
And I didn't know that before I met Cliff.
JONATHAN: Yeah, wow, well, fascinating story. Thank you so much for sharing it.
KAYLAN: Yeah, you're welcome.
JONATHAN: And thanks so much to our listeners. Is there some part of the Museum that you'd like to know more about? Questions you wish a Museum staff member could answer? E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org, that's it for this episode of Pulsar, join us again soon.