What color were the dinosaurs?

A dinosaur fossil of anchiomis huxleyi

Johan Lindgren/Sci. Rep.

In this article from Chemical & Engineering News, researchers use chemistry to find out what colors the dinosaurs were.

Researchers led by Johan Lindgren of Lund University, in Sweden, used a battery of analytical techniques to scrutinize the molecular makeup of a fossilized Anchiornis huxleyi specimen. This dinosaur is a distant relative of today’s birds, and its remnants were preserved for about 150 million years in what is now northeastern China.

The researchers’ thorough analyses have allowed them to conclude that some of the dinosaur’s melanin, or pigment molecules, and melanin-producing organelles have also survived the intervening epochs (Sci. Rep. 2015, DOI: 10.1038/srep13520).

Scientists have previously observed signs of similar biomaterials in fossils, but studies have lacked sufficient evidence to rule out the idea that these materials come from bacteria or other microbial intruders.

Using methods including infrared spectroscopy and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry, Lindgren and his colleagues have shown that the sample’s fossilized feathers contain substances that closely resemble modern animal—not bacterial—eumelanin, the pigments responsible for brown and black coloration.

Click here to read the whole article.


What Does a Research Geologist Do?

Research Geologist Career Spotlight title
An article originally by Andy Orin found on Lifehacker here: http://lifehacker.com/career-spotlight-what-i-do-as-a-research-geologist-1690402642

It’s appealing to think that a geologist spends most of their time scouring remote landscapes with a rock hammer and a magnifying glass, but in reality they spend more time in a laboratory than a Land Rover. The work of a research geologist is eclectic, analytical, and scientific.

To learn a little about the field, we spoke with Circe Verba, Ph.D., a young researcher at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and who has previously worked with NASA and SETI. Circe is also involved with science outreach and education with high school students, and has even designed a LEGO set depicting what it’s like to be a geologist. Now let’s take a look through the microscope:

Tell us a little about yourself and your experience.

I am a research geologist at the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s (NETL) Office of Research & Development (ORD). I specialize in bridging geochemistry and civil engineering—specifically projects that involve carbon sequestration and wellbore integrity (relevant to mitigating climate change) and understanding the interaction of oil-gas shale in unconventional systems. My expertise is electron microscopy and image analysis.

What drove you to choose your career path?

I had many inspirations as a child; it started with my earth science class with discovering the planets. I had a thirst for knowledge to understand processes at a macroscopic scale down to a micro-scale. Geology is a multidisciplinary science that spans several fields, such as engineering and research, which enabled me to pursue several interests.

How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?

I wanted to pursue a career that would expand my perception of the universe by conducting research. I participated in high school science clubs which provided a scholarship opportunity to attend college at Oregon State University. Research (nowadays) requires a Ph.D., which took me long nine years. During my undergraduate, I explored astronomy, oceanography, and geology. I studied microbial boreholes in freshwater pillow basalt for planetary applications. Then I started a geology master’s program at Northern Arizona University, studying Martian aeolian [wind erosion] and volcanic features as part of a NASA HiRISE fellowship. Once that program ended, I switched gears and participated in an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) post-graduate fellowship in 2009. At NETL I was encouraged to further my education which led to the completion of my Ph.D in 2013, and a permanent job studying engineered systems on Earth.

Verba in the lab with a SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope).

Verba in the lab with a SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope).

What kinds of things do you do beyond what most people see? What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?

My time depends on what stage the project is at—at the moment I have four projects in different stages. I can spend time in the laboratory conducting experiments, analyzing and characterizing samples under an electron or light microscope, or working on the computer drafting manuscripts for publications. I also spend a lot of time interfacing with other team members and key partners from universities. It is also vital for scientists to communicate with one another on their work at scientific conferences.

What misconceptions do people often have about your job?

One misconception is not about my job, but more about the field. A common joke is that geology is rock for jocks, however, geology can be quite complex. In addition, as a geologist you get a lot of random rocks brought to you hoping for special identification when it’s usually a common rock like an agate (quartz-polymorph).

A close up view of a sample inside a SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope).

A close up view of a sample inside a SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope).

What are your average work hours?

A normal, professional work week—40 hours/week. More if there are deadlines or traveling.

What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?

Spreadsheets are essential for project management to keep track of project tasks or budgets, as well as from a technical stand point to understand chemical analyses and to calculate, graph, and import data.

Another tip is sharing data; part of being a scientist is to not replicate work that has been done or is being conducted. It is then helpful to publish the research or put data onto a database for distribution. We use the Energy Data eXchange (EDX) at NETL.

What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession? What do they do instead?

As I said above, I spend more time in the experimental and petrographic laboratory and interpreting the results. I spend less time in the field than my peers, for example, collecting samples, mapping regions, or being on an oil rig. In addition, several of my peers primary focus use applied geophysical modeling or geographic information system (GIS) to capture, store, manage, analyze spatial data. Furthermore, many geologists are in academia, which includes research and teaching.

What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?

Personally, the worst part of the job is the amount of technical writing required. You undergo a lot of revisions for technical reports and peer reviewed journal articles. I’m a descriptive writer, so I’ve had to learn to reign it in and learn from mistakes.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

The most enjoyable part of the job is when I’m using the microscopes. You get to see details down to a micrometer scale, something the naked eye can’t see. It’s an unseen world that I get to be a part of. It can also be like a micro-treasure hunt to find changes in mineral phases or microorganisms.

What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?

Salary can range depending on your education level and where you are employed. The bottom 10% make $46k whereas the median salary for geologist in all sectors is $84k.

How do you move up in your field?

A geologist can advance their career by getting additional certifications (e.g. registered geologist) or pursue higher education. Specifically where I work, advancement of job positions [would be] into project management, such as technical team coordinator, team lead, or division director.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?

The best advice I can give to an aspiring geologist is to never stop learning. Take as many science courses so can to figure out what field interests you, such as geology, engineering, physics, or mathematics. In addition, geography, computer science, environmental science, GIS, and drawing/art courses are also very helpful. Geology is a wide field with many hot topics to explore, including environmental or climate change, energy, geological hazards or mitigation, and mining. Examples of [jobs] in the field are engineering geologist, geochemist, geophysicist, hydrologist, mudlogger, wellsite geologist, environmental consultant, exploration geologist in academia, the oil, gas, petroleum sector, engineering or construction firms, government, museums, and private industry.

The Lego set that Verba designed. There is a figure using a SEM in the lab and another collecting samples of purple crystals in the field.

Vote for her LEGO set here: https://ideas.lego.com/projects/93813

I created the Research Geology LEGO set [because] I am also an active participant in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic (STEM) education by being involved in high school career fairs and science activities. I feel that it is important to find fun ways to encourage children, of both genders, to use critical thinking skills. As an adult, I still play with LEGO, a cobblestone of my childhood. So I created a LEGO set called Research Geology, which highlights my career as a research geologist both in the field and in the laboratory. While I included both genders in my set, I wanted to highlight that women can be scientists too. I strongly believe that we can impact young minds and pave the way for future scientists. We can change the world, one geek at a time.

Trilobite Cookies

Even Easier Trilobite Cookies

by Stephen Greb, Kentucky Geological Survey

You’ll need:

1 bag of oval-shaped or circular cookies. Cookies that do not already have icing work best. Several types of cookies can be used, if you want to show variety.
1 cup of M & M’s ® (mini-size works well), Skittles ® or other small, round candies for eyes
Several tubes of icing for decorating. Large tubes and small, detail tubes can both be used.
Plastic knifes for spreading icing
Paper or plastic plates to make the cookies on
Paper towels for clean up

Preparation time: 15-30 minutes, depending on how many cookies you make


1. Place undecorated cookies on a plate or paper towel.

2. Decorate cookies using tube icing. Try to divide the cookies into three parts. You can spread icing on the top third and bottom third to model the head (cephalon) and tail (pygidium) of the trilobite. You can also divide the cookie into three parts along the long axis and spread icing on both sides, leaving the middle strip bare. This models the three longitudinal lobes of the trilobite. You can use small tube icing to make segments across the cookie, or bumps, or spines. Use your imagination.

3. Finish by placing two candy eyes on the head. You can use a dab of icing as “glue” to help hold the candy eyes down. If the eyes don’t stick, it’s okay; some trilobites lacked eyes and were blind.

4. Eat and enjoy!

Wisconsin Moonstone

When you think of rockhounding in Wisconsin, you probably think of Lake Superior agates. But did you know that Wisconsin also has moonstone? Read this article from the MWF January 2015 newsletter to find out more.

Anorthoclase moonstone from Wisconsin.

Image from Bill Schoenfuss and Moonlight photography.


by Dr. William S. Cordua

Emeritus professor of Geology

University of Wisconsin – River Falls

Imagine an October full moon in Wisconsin glowing ghostly blue to yellow as it seems to float over the newly harvested farm fields. Or is this captured in the rock? In Wisconsin’s own moonstone?

Wisconsin moonstone has been known for decades, but only recently have skilled lapidarists learned to work it to bring out its full beauty. This find surprises non-residents, who at generally associate Wisconsin gemstones with Lake Superior agates and nothing else. What is this material? How did it form? What causes its optical effect?

The moonstone localities are on private land in central Wisconsin, not far from Wausau in Marathon County. The mineral is a type of feldspar known as anorthoclase. This formed as a rock-forming mineral within the Wausau Igneous Complex, a series of plutons intruded between 1.52-1.48 billion years ago. There are at least 4 major intrusive pulses within the complex.

The anorthoclase is in the Stettin pluton, the earliest, least silicic and most alkalic of the plutons of the Wausau complex. This body is complexly zoned, largely circular in outcrop and has a diameter of about 4 miles. It is mostly made of syenite, an igneous rock resembling granite, but lower in silica and higher in alkali elements such as potassium and sodium. As such, it lacks quartz, but does contain a lot of alkali feldspar. Further complicating the geology is the intrusion of later pegmatite dikes. Some especially silica-poor varieties sport such odd minerals as nepheline, sodalite, fayalite, and sodium rich amphiboles and pyroxenes. Zircon, thorium, and various rare earth element minerals can be found in this pluton. Large prismatic crystals of arfvedsonite and nice green radiating groups of aegirine (acmite) crystals have been collected for years from these rocks. It is also the pegmatite dikes that contain the anorthoclase showing the moonstone effect.

The moonstone has been found in small pits and quarries and also in farm fields where masses weather out and get frost-heaved to the surface. The weathered masses of coarse cleavable feldspar may at first not look too interesting, but at the right angle the moonstone effect can be seen. The feldspar has two change and bounding capacity, so fit readily in the same niches in the feldspar. But sodium and potassium aren’t enough alike. If the feldspar cools down slowly, to below 400 degrees C, the feldspar structure contracts in size, and sodium and potassium are no longer good interchangeable fits. The homogenous anorthoclase splits on a fine scale into intergrown potassium feldspar and albite. Sometimes the bands of alternating minerals are coarse enough to see. Other times they are microscopic. If they are just the right size and spacing, they scatter the light that penetrates the various layers in the mineral – producing the moonstone effect, or schiller. The only anorthoclase that is truly not a mixture is that which cools very rapidly, such as in lava flows, so the separation cannot occur, and the mineral is frozen into its high temperature form. The material at Wausau cooled slowly, so isn’t, strictly speaking, anorthoclase anymore, but an exsolved mixture.

The crystalline structure controls the orientation of these exsolution bands, hence the effect is seen better on some surfaces (the {010} cleavage for example) than at others. This is one reason why shaping the rough stone takes such skill. Other challenges are the weathered nature of some of the stone, and exploiting the cleavage directions inherent in the feldspar.

Polished moonstone fragment several centimeters long showing the moonstone effect.

Image from Bill Schoenfuss and Moonlight photography.

The master of processing these stones is Bill Schoenfuss of Wausau, Wisconsin. Bill often exhibits and sells his beautifully prepared moonstone at shows in the upper midwest. He can be contacted at schoenfuss

Moonstone has been prized as a gem since antiquity, often characterized as being like solidified moonbeams. The Greeks and Romans both related the gem to their moon gods and goddesses. The American Gem Society considers moonstone an alternate birthstone for June.

Mastodon Bones Found in Michigan Backyard

10,000-14,000 year old mastodon bones found in Michigan

Photo: Rod Sanford/Lansing State Journal

Reblogged from ESCONI (Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois): When we say we enjoy finding fossils in our own backyard, we are usually speaking metaphorically. Eric Witcke means it literally. He and neighbor Daniel LaPoint were excavating a backyard pond at his home in Bellevue Township, Michigan, when they unearthed a paleontological treasure. They called in the some experts from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Paleontology and were told the 42 odd bones belonged to a 37 year old male Mastodon. The Mastodon lived between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago.

Daniel Fisher, the director of the U of M museum, has made two trips to confirm and examine the Bellevue Township find.

He said there have been a total of about 330 confirmed mastodon bone discoveries in Michigan — but just two in the last year. Most of the bones have been found in the southern half of the lower peninsula. Sometimes people find just a tooth or tusk.

LaPoint and Witzke’s collection includes several rib bones, leg, shoulder and hip bones, the base of a tusk and pieces of the animal’s vertebrae.

Fisher has spent several hours looking through what they found and believes the mastodon was a 37-year-old male.

“Preliminary examination indicates that the animal may have been butchered by humans,” said Fisher. Bones show what look like tool marks, in places.

The bones are between 10,000 and 14,000 years old. Fisher said once they’ve been donated to the museum the exact age will likely be narrowed to within 200 or 300 years.

The full story is here.