Dinosaur becomes science ambassador

October 4, 2002

Bristol University has a couple of new recruits working on its widening-participation programme - a science education officer and an assistant a few million years her senior.

Thecodontosaurus was one of the earliest-known dinosaurs. It lived in the Bristol area and is believed to be the predecessor of giant plant eaters such as diplodocus and brachiosaurus. The first specimen was found in 1834 in a Bristol quarry, and was displayed in the city museum until it was destroyed by a bomb in the second world war.

Thirty years later, 5 tonnes of rocks full of thecodontosaurus bones were found in another quarry near Bristol. When funding became available in 1999, university palaeontologists began to break up the rocks and piece together a new skeleton. They expect the work will take another three years.

Mike Benton, head of earth sciences and professor of vertebrate palaeontology, realised that this was a great opportunity to showcase the work of scientists while getting children interested in going to university.

"The message is that science is fun," Professor Benton said. "We want them to see that science is the only career in which you have the chance to find something new. So yes, they have to learn their maths and chemistry, but the payback is discovering something no one has seen before. It will help to counter the national decline in science at GCSE and A level."

An £18,500 university widening-participation grant enabled the earth sciences department to employ science education officer Caroline Milner. She will talk to 3,000 children of all ages and backgrounds about the dinosaur project by Christmas, visiting local schools and supervising workshops at the university.

The university has also opened a palaeontology laboratory for schools to visit.

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