Discover the Most Realistic Dinosaur Experience Ever!
A Look at the Dinosaurs Around the World from the Eyes of Expert Paleontologists
By Steven Joseph
My first movie was the animated dinosaur feature, “The Land Before Time.” And like most children between 3 and 7, I went through my paleontology phase, eventually outgrowing it after the first “Jurassic Park.” But even though the “traditional” dinosaur is extinct, dinosaurs are still alive, and they’re all around us. According to paleontologist Dr. Gregory Erickson, “Birds are dinosaurs. One of the biggest things that the movies get wrong is that they don’t give the dinosaurs feathers.”
Dr. Erickson is also the conceptualizer behind “Dinosaurs Around the World,” the most realistic dinosaur experience ever created, coming to the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach November through April. The exhibit will “rekindle the spark in adults that they had as children. It’s not just animatronics, it’s an educational experience. It’s a museum AND a zoo.” Erickson also helped design many of the accompanying exhibits traveling with the animatronics that include real fossils.
Dr. Erickson made his bones, literally, studying under famed paleontologist Jack Horner, and now splits his time between the scientific and the academic worlds. Besides teaching at Florida State University, Dr. Erickson helped discover and design mass-age-growth curves for dinosaurs, and is a foremost expert in the aging of dinosaur bones and teeth. Dr. Erickson believes his biggest contribution to paleontology, though, “is the idea that techniques developed for modern animals can be applied to dinosaurs. That’s the bigger purpose of ‘Dinosaurs Around the World,’ to teach the public about scientific concepts.”
Because this exhibit is more than just robots and bones. Dr. Erickson wanted patrons to know “the science behind how we know what we know.” The exhibit also will include many interactive elements, introduce the public to new dinosaurs they may be unfamiliar with, and stress that dinosaurs were on all continents. Museum CEO Lew Crampton adds, “’Hands On, Minds On’ is what the museum is about. We want people to come DO science, not just look at it.”
The museum is only the second ever location for the traveling exhibit, the first one being the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. The exhibit features the most accurate robotic dinosaurs ever created, two of which are so large they don’t even fit inside the museum. “You’ll be able to see them from the parking lot,” says Crampton. Dr. Erickson helped the animatronics team in China design the pieces, whose movements are “about as real as they can get,” according to Crampton.
Few museums in the country might be better suited than the South Florida Science Center to host this exhibit, as Crampton was actually part of a team that discovered a dinosaur in Wisconsin. Crampton was working with the Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois when he pitched a radical idea to the Board of Directors: Let’s go find a dinosaur. “I had no idea we’d find one.” Crampton’s crew unearthed a complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in Wisconsin a year later, christened “Jane,” which became the cornerstone of an award-winning exhibit of its own. “Dinosaurs are awesome,” Crampton gushes with the enthusiasm of a wide-eyed youngster, “but this exhibit is not just for kids.”
The museum is hosting “DinoFest” later this year, using the exhibit as an anchor, but adding lecture series from renowned scientists, and Q&A sessions and discussion panels. Crampton does admit, however, that “the best questions always come from the children.” Crampton also notes that he is “more excited for the programming around the exhibit than the dinosaurs themselves.”
The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium isn’t just a one-trick eohippus… er, pony. The museum features interactive brain teasers and a brand new planetarium running Sky Scan, which can show the night-sky as perceived from any geographic location. The museum also boasts “Science on a Sphere,” a projection orb which can run over 650 different programs varying from weather patterns to tracking bird migrations. And if that’s too much science for your taste, the museum now has an 18-hole miniature golf course in its backyard.
Dr. Erickson says the most exciting thing he’s ever found while digging for dinosaur bones is…a second bone at the end of the first. “That denotes the possibility of a real find as opposed to an isolated fossil.” Appropriate, as the museum is hoping “Dinosaurs Around the World” is the metaphorical first bone for a lifetime of discovery for old and new patrons alike. Come be a part of “Dinosaurs Around the World” in only its second exhibition, November 2015 through April 2016, and experience “the most realistic dinosaur exhibit ever created.” No bones about it.