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Luis Alvarez: Your new science hero?

Forget Tesla. Luis Alvarez should be the new object of your science history obsession says Ben Lillie at The Last Word on Nothing. Them's fightin' words. But Lillie backs it up. With his son Walter, Alvarez was the first to suggest that a giant asteroid impact had led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Before that, he won a Nobel for designing a better Bubble Chamber to study electrically charged particles, invented the aircraft blind landing system and night-vision binoculars, found hidden rooms in the pyramids at Giza, investigated the JFK assassination, and was also a creepily outspoken voice in favor of global nuclear armament. (So it's not all awesome stuff.) Read more.

"Lifelike" wall-mounted T. Rex head


The 14" high T. Rex replica head ($73 on Amazon) gets pretty good reviews from the people who've bought it -- sounds like just the thing if you want to create the illusion that you're a time-traveling big game hunted.

Wall Mounted T-rex Dinosaur Head Tyrannosaurus Rex Hanging Display Plaque Decor (via Red Ferret)

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How James Gurney paints dinosaurs

[Video Link] I love James Gurney's art. He is the creator of the beautiful Dinotopia series of books, and he's just made a video that shows the process he used to paint two illustrations of dinosaurs for Scientific American. This trailer shows how much careful planning Jim puts into his work -- sketches, color, studies, photography, and cool 3D models. Wow! I sure admire his devotion to his craft.

The 56-minute video is available at a name-your-price starting point of $15, which is a great deal. It'll also be available soon on DVD with bonus features.

The dumb T.Rex controversy everybody's talking about

Scientists found a Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth embedded in the tailbone of a duckbilled dinosaur. Now, everybody wants to know: Does this mean T.Rex really was a predator, rather than a scavenger, as has been proposed in previous studies? The correct answer is "STFU." That's my paraphrase of John Hutchinson — who studies the biomechanics of large animals, including T.Rex. He says the "controversy" here doesn't really exist. That's because most carnivores are both predators and scavengers and most paleontologists would agree that T.Rex is no exception to that rule.

Dinobird plumage revealed

Chemical analysis of Archaeopteryx remains show that the creature was patterned "light in colour, with a dark edge and tip to the feather", say researchers from the University of Manchester.

How to: Figure out what color dinosaurs really were

Color is just a happy side effect of physics. So Canadian scientists are turning to The Canadian Light Source synchrotron, a particle accelerator in Saskatchewan, to help them figure out what color extinct duck-billed dinosaurs actually were. By putting a 70-million-year-old skull into the accelerator, they'll be able to figure out what molecules — from pigments to melanin-producing cells — are still present in the fossil. Francie Diep explains how it works at Popular Science.

20-foot dinosaur made from balloons


This 20-foot-tall acrocanthosaurus is made out of twisted-together balloons. It was created over four days by Larry Moss and Kelly Cheatle's company Airgami for the lobby of the Virgina Museum of Natural History.

airigami (headed by larry moss) has completed a 20-foot long acrocanthosaurus--a dinosaur from the early cretaceous period. this is not the first time the team has built one of the mammoth creatures from their signature medium of balloons, but it is the first occasion in which they have produced and displayed one alongside a cast of an actual skeleton of a prehistoric reptile. finished over the course of four days, the massive inflated beast is installed within the virgina museum of natural history (for as long as it will last).

the core team of marsh gallagher, TJ michael, phil cosmos and dee cosmos who realized the larger than life blow-up sculpture were assisted by many helpers including elementary school students and museum staff.

20-foot dinosaur made from balloons by airigami [Designboom]

Download a dinosaur (or 17)

Now you can download 17 digital versions of dinosaur bodies created by scientists at the UK's The Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, and other institutions. The bodies were made for a study of the biomechanics of dinosaurs — essentially, an attempt to reverse engineer some knowledge of how dinosaurs moved and how body shape and movement changed as dinosaurs got closer to becoming birds. I don't really know exactly what you might do with these files, but they're free and available to anyone. And, I figure, if somebody is going to come up with a fantastic use for digitized dinosaurs, it's you guys.

Perfect score on a 4th grade science test about Dinosaurs

I can't vouch for the provenance of this alleged school test about dinosaurs. I just like to imagine cute dinosaurs the size of sheep. They must've been fabulous pets! (Via CN)

Little-known dinosaurs that should make an appearance in Jurassic Park 4

Brian Switek does fantastic work writing about dinosaurs. I haven't finished his new book, My Beloved Brontosaurus , just yet, but it's shaping up to be fantastic — all about the slow, lumbering dinosaurs of our childhoods and how our conception of them morphed into something totally different. He's going to be on Science Friday on, well, Friday. And he's written them a post about four distinctive but seldom-discussed dinosaurs that should really get their 15 minutes of fame.

Roast dinosaur for Christmas

Tired of turkey? Bored with beef? Maybe it's time to consider a more exotic roast this holiday season. At Popular Science, Erin Berger has taken the time to figure out what dinosaur would hypothetically make the best dinner for people (as opposed to the other way around). The analysis turns out to be surprisingly fascinating — Dinosaurs probably tasted more like beef than chicken! Armored tails are the other other white meat! — and it turns out that what you really want is a nice chunk of sauropod neck.

Coming soon: Dinosaur hotel

A Best Western in Denver is set to begin a remodeling project that will turn it into a dinosaur-themed wonderland. (Via Alexandra Witze)

I, for one, welcome our dork overlords

Somebody named a dinosaur after the Eye of Sauron. Sauroniops pachytholus got its moniker because (so far) only one specimen of this species has been found — the upper part of a skull, eye socket included.

Sauropods might have had trunks, but probably didn't

Imagine an apatosaurus with a long, elephant-like snout. Plenty of people have. That's because the nostril placement on sauropod dinosaurs is, in some ways, remarkably similar to that of trunked animals that live today. In both cases, the nostrils are large, and they're located up around what we'd call the forehead, kind of smack between the eyes.

On the one hand, this is one of those things that it's really hard to ever know for certain. We don't have preserved soft tissue, so when we make models of what dinosaurs might have looked like we're really going on clues from the bones and comparisons to living animals with similar bone structure. Because of that, it is somewhat reasonable to suggest that hey, maybe, sauropods really did look like grumpy diplodocus in the image above. It's fun to speculate.

But not all speculations are created equal. In a fascinating post at the Tetrapod Zoology blog, Darren Naish explains why a superficial similarity to trunked animals isn't enough to counteract the much-more prevalent evidence against sauropod trunks. One of the more interesting lines of evidence he points out is the fact that dinosaurs apparently lacked the facial which form the trunk in living animals. We know this partly because muscles leave their signature on bone, and Naish says there's no evidence sauropods had the right facial muscles. It's further bolstered by the fact that the animals most closely related to sauropods don't have those facial muscles, either.

Naish's piece reminds me of the last time we talked about sauropod biology here. That, too, dealt with the fact that superficial similarities aren't enough to infer that two animals must have identical biology. Only, in that case, we were talking about the differences between the long necks of giraffes and the long necks of sauropods.

Duriavenator: Thunder lizard or cleaning appliance?

Duriavenator is a dinosaur — a kind of T.Rex-ish, pointy toothed dinosaur that lived in what is now England. But I think it sounds like the name of a 1950s vacuum cleaner company, don't you?

Dinosaurs had cancer, too

I'm at the National Association of Science Writers conference this weekend and, in a panel on creating narrative in journalism, author George Johnson mentioned something absolutely fascinating. Johnson is currently writing a book about cancer and he told the audience a story about traveling out to see specimens that showed a metastasized cancer in the fossilized bones of a dinosaur.

I think Johnson just sold me a copy of his book, but I also wanted to look up this phenomenon right now. I'd honestly never heard of dinosaur cancer, but it turns out that there are several examples of this, including a fossilized brain tumor discovered in 2003. That said, there does seem to be some debate on the subject. While that brain tumor was found in the skull of a relative of the T. Rex, another study published the same year found that only duck-billed dinosaurs seemed to have had much of a risk of cancer. In that study, scientists x-rayed 10,000 specimens. They only found cancer in the duck-billed hadrosaurs.

Now, on the one hand, this might not be totally representative of all cancer risk. After all, what you're seeing in fossils are cancers of the bone, or cancers that have metastasized to the bone. On the other hand, if this is an accurate reflection of the nature of cancer in dinosaurs, it's a pretty interesting finding, which suggests that genetics played a huge role in determining which dinosaurs got cancer and which didn't. Either that, or duck-billed dinosaurs were exposed to some kind of environmental risk factor that didn't affect other species. (Which isn't a totally crazy idea. For instance, we know that hadrosaurs grazed heavily on conifers. And, according to the 2003 paper, they may have been the only dinosaurs who preferred that diet.)

There's lots of good stuff to read on this:
Read the full 2003 study on the epidemiology of cancer in dinosaurs
• In 1999, the same researchers published a short report on bone cancer in dinosaurs. You can read that online, too
• A 2007 paper compared rates of bone cancer in dinosaurs with those in modern vertebrates. According to this research, the rate of bone cancer hasn't changed.
• A 2010 paper looked at modern cancer treatments in the context of what we know about cancer in ancient times — both in dinosaurs and in human mummies

Edit: Yesterday, I said David Quammen was the author writing a book about cancer. That was incorrect. It is fixed now.

Long dinosaur is long

Diplodocus is a sauropod — one of those dinosaurs whose shape you probably associate with the name "brontosaurus". Except that Diplodocus was long. Really long. At an average length of 90 feet, it's longest dinosaur ever found. Also: It might have had spines up and down its neck. Check out this LiveScience piece by Kim Ann Zimmermann for more fun Diplodocus facts.