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including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Tech researchers solve dinosaur egg mystery

By Jeffrey Douglas

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 34 - June 27, 1996

A mystery 80 million years in the making was recently unraveled in a matter of minutes in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

There, in one of the more unusual procedures ever undertaken in the College's Alphin Radiology Center, veterinary radiologists and technicians performed a CT scan on two fossilized dinosaur eggs found in China's Yellow River Basin in an effort to answer these compelling questions:

Did the museum-quality eggs harbor fossilized embryos? Or did they successfully hatch two baby dinosaurs in the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era?

It was impossible to tell whether the museum-quality specimens were completely intact, since the two grapefruit sized eggs were melded to a rocky matrix on the bottom. The stakes were high, since no intact dinosaur embryos have yet been scanned.

Twenty minutes of CT scanning later, the verdict was in.

There were no signs of fossilized embryos, and plenty of signs of forced exit, agreed veterinary radiologist Jeri Jones, technician Susie Ayers, and Virginia Tech mathematician William Greenberg.

And how did fossilized dinosaur eggs find their way from China's Yellow River Basin to the campus to be examined by vet school personnel and a mathematician?

As it turns out, Greenberg's mathematics expertise is especially useful in an emerging area of paleontological investigation: the use of CT scanning to evaluate fossilized dinosaur eggs.

That's how he established his professional relationship with Boulder, Colorado-based paleontologists Florence and Charlie Magovern. The Magoverns were recently photographed amidst hundreds of the fossilized dinosaur eggs for the May issue of National Geographic Magazine.

The Magoverns bought the eggs from Chinese dealers who acquired them for about a dollar an egg from the Chinese residents who found them. That was before the Chinese government ruled them national treasures and closed the trade.

Greenberg thought museums on the Eastern Seaboard should be able to showcase the treasures, so he negotiated for three eggs from the Magoverns, who he met on the Internet.

The first egg, believed to be from a dinosaur similar to an apatosaurus (formerly known as brontosaurus), was scanned at the school on June 7. Unfortunately, its resident had also vacated the premises.

The eggs scanned last week, believed to be from a relative of a duck-billed dinosaur, will be on display at Virginia Tech's Museum of Geological Sciences or Museum of Natural History in the near future, then shared with various museums in the Eastern United States, according to Greenberg.