An SMU graduate student has found the oldest complete egg ever laid by a prehistoric crocodile.
Paleontology student Jack Rogers collected the fossil on a private ranch about 20 miles from Glen Rose, Texas, in 1996. The oval egg is perfectly shaped and is just over an inch and a half long. It is the first crocodile or dinosaur egg ever found in Texas.
Rogers estimates the egg is about 112 million years old. The oldest complete crocodile egg previously found was about 45 million years old. He says the egg is similar to a modern crocodile egg, which tells scientists that the structure of crocodile eggs has not changed much over the years.
Rogers is now studying fossils from eight different crocodiles found in association with the egg and believes they will lead to the description of a new fossil crocodile. He estimates the fossils are from a small crocodile that was about four feet long.
For more information: Jack Rogers
Advertising and Ourselves
What do print ads really tell us about our culture and ourselves?
Advertising uses images of ethnic stratification, gender stereotyping, racial assimilation, and sexual violence to appeal to consumers, says Sociology Professor Anthony J. Cortese. His recent book, Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising, exposes how advertising images of women and minorities are manipulated to capitalize on current trends, often with disturbing results.
"Advertisings goal is to grab our attention for a few seconds while it sells us a particular product or service," Cortese says. "Advertising exploits our fascination with sex, violence, and the exotic to get our attention. Ads play with our values and tug at our emotions, often with unforeseen consequences."
From pickups and blenders to perfumes and jeans, advertising depicts thin, beautiful women and lean, muscular men engaged in romantic, coercive, bumbling, or other types of behaviors, fostering stereotypes and creating misconceptions about relationships and the nature of social reality.
"Children used to learn about life from parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Todays children are increasingly picking up those lessons from those who only want to sell them something," Cortese says. "Children and adults need to be more media literate so they can see through the stereotypes and hidden messages, and not allow advertising to script their behavior."
Virtual Reality Surgery
Engineering researchers at SMU are developing a device that someday may enable physicians to perform surgery without being present in the operating room or touching their patients.
Yildirim Hurmuzlu, associate professor of mechanical engineering and an expert in biomechanics, has created a device known as a haptic interface with the help of a team of graduate students. Haptic comes from the Greek word meaning "to touch." The device resembles a mechanical arm, complete with a shoulder, an elbow, a wrist, and a partially completed hand.
Hurmuzlu says it will probably be a long time before surgeons operate on patients with a robotic hand. A more likely medical application, at least for now, will be that physicians use the haptic interface to diagnose patients from afar, feeling for the presence of tumors or other physical manifestations. Hurmuzlu and his team of Ph.D. students are working with researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas to develop medical applications using the new technology.
Clues in Clay
A piece of broken pottery is providing important clues to the domestication of plants and animals in northern Africa during the early Neolithic Period.
Katherine Nelson, a doctoral student in anthropology, has discovered what she believes is the oldest piece of pottery unearthed in northern Africa. The piece was found in a collection of ancient Egyptian pottery samples brought to SMU before Egypt began requiring in 1987 that archaeological finds remain there for study and display. The nondescript, gray piece of fired clay was discarded near Egypts present-day Nabta Playa about 10,000 years ago.
Nelson, who is studying pottery from the worlds six oldest sites, has concluded that evidence of domestication often appears first with the making of pottery and later in the altered genetics of wild plants that have been domesticated. Discovery of this piece of pottery is important because it shows that the people who made it are evolving from purely hunting and gathering to survival by gathering and storing specific wild seeds, she says. Because the process of making pottery took at least two weeks then, they stayed in one place longer.
Nelson began analyzing ancient Egyptian pottery with encouragement from SMU anthropologist Fred Wendorf, who has led research expeditions into northern Africa for more than 37 years.
For more information: Katherine Nelson
The Blob, Part II
SMU geophysicists, using the latest in seismic technology, have discovered a large volume of unusually high-velocity matter deep within the Earth that may provide clues to better understanding of geological activities on the planets surface.
The anomalous matter, located more than 1,000 miles under the western Caribbean Sea, is about 80 miles thick by 380 miles long, almost vertical, and is believed to be slowly descending like the colored substance in a lava lamp. Scientists believe it may be an old subductive slab, but they are not certain how it moves.
Ileana Madalina Tibuleac, a postdoctorate researcher in the Department of Geological Sciences, and Professor Eugene T. Herrin made the surprising discovery while analyzing data gathered by sophisticated seismic equipment designed to detect underground nuclear tests.
Scientists have long believed that the Earths lower mantle (about 450 to 1,800 miles below the surface) was a homogeneous substance surrounding the Earths core. The discovery could provide clues about the composition of the lower mantle and the role it may play in seismic events close to the Earths surface, Tibuleac says.
Searching for Antimatter
SMU physicists are participating in a research project they hope will provide fresh insights into the nature of matter, antimatter, and the formation of the universe.
Together with colleagues at Syracuse University and the University of Minnesota, SMU physicists helped build a new particle identification device for an electron-positron collider. Their effort is part of a program to study the fundamental interactions of quarks that involves 20 other North American institutions.
SMUs portion of the project, headed by Physics Professor Thomas E. Coan and performed in Fondren Science Building, was to design and construct a large, novel form of a Cherenkov light radiator, a device that produces light when electrically charged subatomic particles pass through matter at speeds close to that of light. The characteristic pattern of the produced light is used to identify the particle.
By smashing streams of electrons and positrons together, the collider produces subatomic particles known as bottom quarks that can be used to examine differences between matter and antimatter. Matter and antimatter have the same physical properties but opposite electric charges.
"There are strong theoretical and experimental reasons to believe that the universe was created with equal amounts of matter and antimatter," Coan says. "Yet, when you look at the universe today, the stars, planets, and people you see are all made from matter. The antimatter has disappeared. What happened to all the antimatter?"
Dinosaur skeletons unearthed in China three years ago by an SMU paleontologist are providing new clues into the eating habits of theropods, ancient carnivores whose diet has long been a source of mystery to scientists.
In an article published in the December 1999 issue of Nature magazine, graduate student Yoshitsugu Kobayashi says tiny stones found inside the rib cages of 12 ostrich-like dinosaurs called ornithomimids indicate they may have had gizzard stomachs that used grit to digest plant food, much like modern-day birds.
In modern birds, there is a clear relationship between diet and the characteristics of the grit they use. Meat-eating birds (carnivores) have no gizzard or grit, while fruit-eating birds (frugivores) use only a little grit and plant-eating birds (herbivores) retain more grit.
"The occurrence of gastroliths in these ornithomimids and the large number of stomach stones they contained are consistent with a herbivorous diet and the possession of a gizzard like that found in modern herbivorous birds," Kobayashi says.
Ornithomimids lived during the Upper Cretaceous period from roughly 130 million to 65 million years ago.
For more information: Yoshitsugu Kobayashi
Rock of Ages
A single rock collected by John Goodge has revealed some of the major geological events of the past three billion years. Goodge, associate professor of geological sciences, makes frequent trips to the rarely explored Transarctic Mountains in Antarctica, one of the oldest rock formations on Earth. On each expedition, he collects several thousand pounds of rocks to study and classify.
Goodge got a surprise while studying one of the rocks using a sophisticated probe that is able to date individual parts of a rock specimen.
"What is unique about this sample is that we have evidence for four events separated over two and a half billion years of time," Goodge says. The events include the formation of what was to become Antarctica and the much later formation of the Transarctic Mountains.
The findings of Goodges research were published in the November 1999 issue of the journal Geology.
Copyright © 2000 Southern Methodist University. All rights reserved.
Legal Statements and Disclosures