In our 86th episode, we got to speak with George Jacobs, President & CEO of the Philip J. Currie Museum, and Jewels Goff, who does the education and outreach programs for the museum. To learn more about the museum, check out our video in part 1 of our #EpicDinosaurRoadTrip.
Episode 86 is also about Albertosaurus, a tyrannosaurid from Alberta, Canada.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Albertosaurus
- Name means lizard from Alberta
- Tyrannosaurid that lived in the late Cretaceous in what is now Alberta, Canada
- First discovered in 1884 as part of an expedition by the Geological Survey of Canada, led by the geologist Joseph Burr Tyrrell. They didn’t have the right kind of equipment so they could only get part of the skull instead of the nearly complete skull.
- Tyrrell was 25 at the time and looking for coal when he found Albertosaurus in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation of Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada
- Then in 1889, Thomas Chesmer Weston found a smaller, incomplete skull nearby
- Both Albertosaurus skulls were assigned by Edward Drinker Cope in 1892 to Laelaps incrassatus (though Charles Marsh had changed Laelaps to Dryptosaurus in 1877 because Laelaps was the name of a mite. Cope did not accept Marsh’s name. Then Lawrence Lambe used the name Dryptosaurus instead of Laelaps when describing the bones in 1903 and 1904 (called them Dryptosaurus incrassatus)
- Then Henry Fairfield Osborn said that Dryptosaurus was based on generic tyrannosaurid teeth, so the Albertosaurus bones could not be for sure referred to Dryptosaurus. Also, their skulls were different from the type species of Dryptosaurus (aquilunguis)
- Henry Fairfield Osborn named Albertosaurus in a one page note at the end of his description of T-rex, in 1905
- Type species is Albertosaurus sarcophagus
- Named for the Canadian province Alberta, where the first fossils were found
- Species name means “flesh eating”
- Both Albertosaurus specimens are stored at the Canadian Museum of Nature, in Ottawa
- Later, some scientists thought it could be a nomen dubium, because the holotype was damaged, then in 2010 Thomas Carr established the holotype and paratype (found they had a unique common trait of an enlarged pneumatic opening in the back of the palatine bone)
- In 1928 William Parks described a new Albertosaurus species, named Albertosaurus arctunguis, based on a partial skeleton with no skull that Gus Lindblad and Ralph Hornell found in 1923 near Red Deer Rver. But since 1970 it’s been considered to be the same as Albertosaurus sarcophagus
- Other Albertosaurus species have been named, but they’re now considered to be synonyms, nomina dubia, or no longer assigned to Albertosaurus
- Charles Sternberg found another tyrannosaurid skeleton in 1913 in Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta. Lawrence Lambe named it Gorgosaurus libratus in 1914 (more specimens found later in Alberta and Montana). Dale Russell said it was a junior synonym of Albertosaurus, based on not having significant differences. So Gorgosaurus libratus was renamed in 1970 to Albertosaurus libratus (still had an age difference of several million years, which is why the species is different)
- Philip Currie said in 2003 after comparing tyrannosaurid skulls said the two species were distinct and recommended they be separate genera (like Daspletosaurus and Tyrannosaurus)
- Some Albertosaurine bones have been found in Alaska and New Mexico, so Currie suggested there would be more clarification once they were described fully (not everyone agrees)
- Barnum Brown found a large group of Albertosaurus in 1910 at a different quarry along Red Deer River
- Brown didn’t have enough time to collect all the bones, so instead he and his team collected some bones from all the individuals they could identify. They became part of the American Museum of Natural History collection. There were at least 9 individuals in the quarry.
- Phil Currie relocated the bone bed in 1996 based on four photographs of Barnum Brown’s trip
- In 1997 the Royal Tyrrell Museum found the bonebed again and from 1997-2005 found 13 more individuals, including bones from a 2-year-old and an old adult. None of them were complete skeletons. They kept excavating until 2008 and estimated there were at least 12 individuals in the bonebed and at most 26.
- A total of 1,128 bones were secured (largest number of theropod fossils that we know of from the Cretaceous)
- The Dry Island bonebed (where 26 Albertosaurus were found) consisted of one 28-year-old, 8 adults between ages 17-23, seven sub-adults between 12-16 and six juveniles between 2-11 years old
- Most of the known Albertosaurus specimens were around age 14
- The oldest and largest Albertosaurus was 28 years old and (33 ft) or 10 m long
- The youngest known Albertosaurus was 2 years old and 6.6 ft (2 m) long weighing 110 lb (50 kg)
- By age 2, Albertosaurus was larger than any other predator in the area, aside from adult Albertosaurus, so if they made it to age 2, they tended to live until they were fully grown, though as adults they had a higher mortality rate, possibly from stress for competing for mates and resources, and the stress of procreation
- Albertosaurus grew most rapidly between ages 12-16 (similar growth rates to similar sized tyrannosaurids)
- During the growth period Albertosaurus gained 250 pounds per year
- No herbivore bones found, so the bonebed was probably not a predator trap. Because of this Currie said it was evidence of pack behavior, though other scientists think they may have come together by drought or flood
- In 2010, Currie said they may have come together for other causes than pack behavior, such as a slowly rising water lever in an extended flood
- They may have also been like Komodo dragons, where they go into a feeding frenzy which leads to some of them being killed or cannibalized
- Younger Albertosaurus had longer legs than adults and were probably fast. Currie hypothesized that the juveniles drove prey towards the slower adults
- Probably not too fast as an adult (if they fell, they would be badly injured)
- May have walked as fast as 8-13 mph (14-21 kph)
- Lived in a semi-tropical environment with lots of vegetation
- Prey included hadrosaurs, ceratopsians, and ornithomimids
- Had 58+ banana-shaped teeth
- It had at least one replacement tooth for each tooth
- Had a maximum bite force of 3,413 Newtons
- Had serrated teeth and used a “grip and rip” approach to cut through flesh and bone
- Could crunch through bone
- May have used a “bite and slice” way of hunting
- Biting flesh put on stress on Albertosaurus teeth. William Abler suggested that Albertosaurus had a line of serrations on its teeth to (ampullas) keep the teeth from cracking. Ampullas are round voids at the base of the crack-like serration on the tooth that helped Albertosaurus‘ bite be stronger
- Albertosaurus may have bit each other’s faces. One was found with marks on its lower jaw
- In 2009, scientists said that smooth-edged holes in the jaws of Albertosaurus and other tyrannosaurids may be caused by a parasite similar to Trichomonas gallinae (infects birds). They have have bitten each other and spread the infection, and it would have made it difficult to eat food
- Albertosaurus was about 30 ft (9 m) long, though some were as big as 33 ft (10 m) long
- Had a large head and a long tail (to help balance)
- Had a short, S-shaped neck
- Skull was about 3.3 ft (1 m) long
- Had short bony crests above the eyes that may have been brightly colored (used to attract mates)
- Weighed between 1.3 and 1.7 tons
- Bipedal, with two-fingered hands
- Had four-toed feet, and the first digit (the hallux) was short and couldn’t reach the ground)
- Part of the subfamily Albertosaurinae in the family Tyrannosauridae. They tend to have more slender builds, smaller skulls, and longer leg bones, compared to dinosaurs in the other subfamily, Tyrannosaurinae
- Albertosaurus was about half the size of T-rex
- Smaller than T-rex, but still large for its ecosystem
- Albertosaurus lived a few million years before T-rex
- Tyrannosauridae (means “tyrant lizards”) are theropods
- Two subfamilies with up to 11 genera (number of genera is controversial, some think only 3)
- Lived late Cretaceous, Asia and North America
- Usually the largest predators
- Largest species was T-rex
- Not many complete specimens found for known tyrannosaurids
- But many genera have complete skulls
- Some tyrannosaurids had crests above eyes
- Small arms but long legs
- Juvenile tyrannosaurids had longer legs, more suited to running fast, but that changed as adults
- Fun fact: Many plants, mollusks, fish, amphibians, and reptiles are indeterminate growers; which means they don’t have genes like humans do to stop us growing after a certain age or size. It is possible that dinosaurs were also indeterminate growers meaning that they never really stopped growing (although their growth rate would have slowed down after reaching a certain size).
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with George Jacob and Jewels Goff:
Garret: We are joined this week by Jewels Goff, educational outreach programs coordinator and George Jacob, president of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. The Philip J. Currie museum opened up about a year ago here in northwest Alberta and it’s near the Pipestone Creek which is a well known site of many Pachyrhinosaurus specimens. The museum won several awards, nine awards in nine months, in fact, and just reached a milestone of 100,000 visitors in less than a year—about ten months after opening.
Sabrina: So really big congratulations, it’s awesome. What’s been kind of the high point in this journey?
George Jacob: Well like you can see that we’ve won a number of awards in a very short duration of time and those are endorsements from professional agencies that have seen the merits of this institution. We pulled together the fastest museum project in Canadian history and the project was designed, built on record time, on budget. And that is fairly rare in the museum realm. We’ve had a number of visitors come in from the United States, from other parts of the world, because we’re on Alaska Highway 43, which gets a lot of traffic. We have a number of interesting features with this museum that includes National Geographic Theater, two smart classrooms that Jewels leads with a 3D tech lab. We have a fossil-paleo lab, we have a partnership with the University of Alberta, from […] (00:01:21) professorship in […] (00:01:23) paleontology that allows these institutions to work together in tandem. And we have an active education and outreach program that we are quite proud of.
Garret: Yeah there’s quite a wide variety of rooms and stuff, just looking at the map of the museum, there’s a lot of different stuff. So since we mentioned those classrooms, is that something that you do Jewels?
Jewels Goff: Yes, definitely. I lead a lot of the education programs, myself jointly with the rest of our department and I think we had about 5,000 students…
Jewels Goff: …come through this past school year and we already have several bookings for the 2016-2017, so we’re expecting to have even higher numbers. We have our Pipestone Creek bone bed tours in the summers which we’ve had for five summers, I think, so we’re on our fifth summer. Started as an outreach project prior to the museum opening and we’re very happy to have it continue on down there. It’s a good way to have people become more aware of fossil laws and paleontology and physically walk into the bone beds. It’s not often that there’s accessible permits. Especially in this area.
George Jacob: And the other dimension is that those who can’t walk the bone bed we have helicopter rides. So last year it was quite popular and we were in Vertical magazine. That magazine focuses on helicopters. So once you were airborne you’re actually given a tablet PC and that allows you to look at content as you’re flying over the bone bed and this is a small step in a larger scheme of tying airborne paleo tourism to different bone bed sites. So […], which is about two hours from here has more than 10,000 dinosaur tracks and the only way one can see it is if one goes on an extensive hike or flies over it. So a part of our larger plan is to connect some of these larger bone bed sites, not just in Alberta, but also in British Columbia and have a common sort of dinosaur superhighway that you can admire from the air and learn about the movement and speed of some of these animals and herds of animals.
Garret: So is that the kind of stuff that’s on the tablet is information about what they were like when they are alive, kind of thing, or…?
George Jacob: Right, the information on the tablet, which Jewels has been actively involved in developing, includes information on some of the early finds from the 1970s and what were the species that were unearthed here at Pipestone Creek, it also has a map of finds that maps other dinosaur sites around Alberta and British Columbia and you have a lot of fact-based and knowledge-based information that you can retrieve from the tablet easily.
George Jacob: Yeah, and once they’ve finished the ride, they’re supposed to come and identify the silhouettes they’ve seen in the lobby and if they get the five of them right, free membership.
Garret: Oh wow.
Sabrina: How often does that happen?
George Jacob: It hasn’t happened yet.
Garret: We could probably do it.
Sabrina: I don’t know. It’s pressure. So we read that this museum also has a lot of augmented reality and virtual reality aspects built in. What other things can visits expect to see?
George Jacob: So the way the building is laid out, we decided to use the dynamics of the building structure itself. So at the mezzanine level, right at the front desk at the ticketing counter they put our first exhibit right there. And not many museums do that, so the first onslaught is that you look at a dense bone bed and then as you lean over and look at the descending galleries, which is going into the bowels of the earth as a dig site you also gaze up to see some of the articulated skeletal forms on top of the ceiling. The augmented reality platforms pivot on two stems and you can point to some of those skeletal forms and retrieve some hotspots and factoids and once you’ve retrieved all of the information from the hot buttons, it sets the animals in motion in an environment, so you can see the pterodactyls move, you can see the plesiosaurs move under the ocean and in the skies and those platforms are a big hit with school kids and adults alike.
Sabrina: I’m sure!
George Jacob: So we worked with a firm out of Hong Kong and Toronto to get the platforms going so it took us about eight months to develop the software and the visual effects to have that quick sort of feel for the environment in which these dinosaurs moved and lived.
Sabrina: Wow, eight months. That’s impressive. Can we go back to the 3D printing really quick? You mentioned… so when the kids come and they learn and they get to work with 3D printers, what kind of stuff do they do with it?
Jewels Goff: We’re kind of working on developing a couple different programs with it. One is definitely for the visually impaired as they’re not necessarily able to see things but we’ve been working with 3D printing as accurate as we can get. Skeletons, we actually have one, the Pachyrhinosaurus, the […] (00:06:16) and it shows it flushed out so you can actually feel “Okay, here’s where the frill would be, and the horns and the tail and the legs”. So we use them in conjunction with real fossils and pass them around with, depending on the program we’re doing, depends on which fossils they’re going to see. And if we could 3D print things that do work well with that. Sometimes we’re not able to get a particular fossil in or if they have a really good specimen in the 3D printer where we can show it flushed out which we can do in fossil form. And see “Okay, here’s where this bone would be, in conjunction with that”. And they also just really like looking at it. It’s fun. It’s fun for them to see for many of them it’s their first time seeing a 3D printer and so we’ll take turns bringing them up and explaining how it works.
Garret: Mhmm, that’s cool.
Sabrina: So, you mentioned you’ve been doing the bone bed program for the last five years, and the museum obviously just opened last September, but it’s been in the works for a few years. Could you kind of talk about how it all got started? And maybe the inspiration, how it ended up being here in Wembley, Alberta?
George Jacob: Jewels has been active even before she graduated, at the bone bed site and she’s shown great interest in fossil paleobiology and I’ll let her explain this.
Jewels Goff: So firstly, the bone bed was discovered in 1972 by a junior high science teacher by the name of Al Lakusta and so he was actually just walking through the creek bed they knew it was a suite of plant fossils and some marine life. And so Al stumbled across the bones knew it was something but wasn’t sure what it was. At the time the Royal Tyrrell wasn’t open. They didn’t open until 1985 so it was identified through paleontologists at the Royal Alberta Museum. Through time they became identified, […] (00:08:01) came out when the Royal Tyrrell opened they were able to send teams up. One of the lead scientists on that was Philip J. Currie and he’s still very actively involved with the museum. So through time they discovered that not only was this a Pachyrhinosaurus, which in itself is rare. There’s only three species of Pachyrhinosaurus in the world. Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai, which is only found in the Pipestone Creek bone bed, Pachyrhinosaurus Canadensis, which is found in southern Alberta, and then the Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, which is found up in Alaska. So when it was found, it was fairly rare that it was Pachyrhinosaurus. It’s also a very significant bone bed in that it’s one of the largest horned dinosaur bone beds in the world. It’s also one of the densest bone beds in the world. The average bone bed has about 50 to 60 bones per meter cubed, so meter by meter and then meter deep. The Pipestone Creek bone bed will have on average about 200 bones in that same area. So excavating is very much trying to get the bones out, and as you’re digging up a skull you might have a leg bone and a rib bone like wrapping around it. So it’s a very significant site. It’s also one of the first places they find insects in amber with dinosaur bones. They find the two separately, but not always together that often. And so they learned a lot. We had and still have paleontologists from all over the world coming up to excavate here. And so with that they find numerous other sites around the world. Yes around the world, but around the Peace region so we have very very rich fossil-paleo history. So different people started to take notice. GPRC, the Grande Prairie Regional College, the […] (00:09:39).
George Jacob: The University of Alberta…
Jewels Goff: The University of Alberta, which is where I went.
George Jacob: The Paleontological Society of the Peace, PSP I think.
Jewels Goff: Yes, became very involved.
George Jacob: No they’ve been active for 100 years so right from the time of George Dawson in 1890’s. Dawson Creek is named after him, so he was one of the first prospectors…
George Jacob: … and palaeontology have been active in the […] (00:10:01) for nearly a century. In fact we’re actually, Jewels and I and some of our education team and curatorial team, we’re involved with working with GPRC to create a comprehensive exhibit on a 100 years of paleontology in the Peace.
George Jacob: Yeah.
Jewels Goff: So we wanted to have something to showcase and so in conjunction with the county, Pipestone Creek dinosaur initiative, in 2011 is when I came on to help develop all the programs they already had. The team in place was probably about five people to help fundraise and get word out to, so they had an education department and that was in public. We did stuff in the summer, a lot of it was just raising awareness and bringing people out. Cause many people out here didn’t know that there were that many resources. I grew up here, and didn’t know for years that we had it. So a lot of it was bringing awareness and then […] (00:10:53) into the museum having it be placed here. The name was changed from […] (00:11:00) at the Discovery Dinosaur to the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum to honor all the work that Dr. Philip J. Currie has done. And the location land was donated to us by the Anderson family which we are very grateful for. The site of it is also great in that it’s close proximity to the bone bed. It’s also only a fifteen minute drive away to the Pipestone bone bed, but we’re also along the Alaska highway, so we’re able to get in all those tourists instead of having it be a sign on the side of the road that says “Fifteen kilometers this way”. They might not turn off. Seeing the building right there, you can’ miss it. You see it from […] (00:11:37) roads back. It’s very good.
George Jacob: And this week is actually quite a significant week because we have some of the world’s best paleontologists digging at Pipestone Creek. So Dr. Philip Currie is there, Dr. […] (00:11:48) is there, Dr. Xu Xing from Beijing is there, Dr. Corwin Sullivan is here, Dr. Jim […] (00:11:55) is to join the day after tomorrow.
George Jacob: So, there is a world-class crew right now on site carrying out serious digging and excavation at Pipestone Creek.
Sabrina: Definitely, and a few of them are coming here to give talks, right?
George Jacob: They are, yeah. So Jewels and Derek Larson have been active in arranging that. They agreed for the talk. We’re looking forward to it.
Jewels Goff: On Saturday at four pm we have Dr. Xu Xing on and then on the sixteenth we have Corwin Sullivan.
Sabrina: I saw also that you sleepovers here.
Jewels Goff: Yes, we do have in our desire to expand our outreach, expand our programs is reach different groups of people, different interest groups. We have ‘A Night at the Museum’ and so who doesn’t want to come sleep with the dinosaurs? It’s fun. Children and then we do have a parent come up to certain levels of adults per children. They come in, they come on for the evening, we feed them an evening snack, they also get an after hours guided tour with myself or with another education coordinator […] (…) (00:13:09) takes them through a guided gallery tour, and an evening of one of our National Geographic films. Lots of times it’s sea monsters cause that’s a fantastic one, very popular. And it fits right in with our galleries. And then it’s snack time, which, I like food. We then have a local musician Cam White and he comes in and he’s written specifically for the museum a show and it takes them again through the galleries but from the point of view of Peter […] (…) (00:13:42) Pachyrhinosaurus like rock musician singing his way back through the Cretaceous so you learn again in a very different way all about the Cretaceous through very interactive singing and interactive show. It’s very very fun and entertaining and slightly educational. You know, in a very fun and entertaining way. And that going through the gallery at a very specific points stories of, you know, Gorgosaurus coming up to eat them, but it turns out, you know that the Gorgosaurus really just wants to be a part of their band. You know, the hadrosaur that’s always wanted to be a bass player and they become this great dynamic team. He does all these voices and it’s fantastic. And then after that they have a little time to, you know, roam through the galleries as they wish and then kind of a quiet time where they then sleep and then we have breakfast the next morning and they can go through the museum some more if they want. It’s wonderful.
Sabrina: So we’ve heard how Jewels got involved with the museum. George how did you end up working here and becoming president?
George Jacob: I’ve been planning and designing museums for many years. This is my thirtieth year, believe it or not.
George Jacob: And I’ve always been a museologist at heart and I’ve worked on the commercial side of the business and the non-profit side. And I’ve set up different museums in different parts of the world. And as a Canadian, I’ve never set anything in Canada so when this opportunity came by I decided to come and be part of this new institution.
Sabrina: That’s wonderful and especially I really like the architecture.
George Jacob: The architecture is quite interesting. It’s an elite gold standard building. As I mentioned previously it goes underground two levels so it’s deceptive from the outside. So it has a larger footprint than you see. So if you add all the floors it’s about 82,000 square feet.
George Jacob: That’s the volumetric space. And it’s got these cathedral light ceilings and the asymmetrical roofing is held up by these nodes. Five point seven point nodes in this building. And if you look closely at the apex you have these […] (00:15:50) wafers that are stacked that give it additional strength and […] (00:15:54) capacity. So structurally the building is held up with these sort of nodal support base and it’s covered with this skin of triple coated zinc. So you can see it’s a faceted zinc ceiling. At some point it will be coated with solar panels that’ll allow us for some sort of use of natural energy. There are plans of expanding this building by adding an IMAX theatre and digital vestibule and concession and convention centre. So in addition to that we plan to add an annex for resident scholars so they when paleontologists come during summer they don’t have to stay in hotels, they can stay on campus. And we also plan to expand to a storage facility. So currently we have limited collections storage for old facilities. We want to quadruple that size. We also want to build a lab for prototyping articulated skeletal forms, the dinosaurs. We also want to build our own exhibits, traveling exhibits inside and across other parts of the world. So those are all ambitious phase two and phase three plans for this area and when I say ambitious I say that it’s doable ambition because this in itself is something very different from Grande Prairie has been used to. So that leap that they have taken from state structures that you see all around you to allow for this award winning architectural edifice to come to be shows that they are open to taking those exponential leaps into possibilities.
Garret: Yeah I love the architecture and all the pictures of it gives you a million different angles.
George Jacob: Angles to work with, yeah and Jewels may be able to talk a little bit more in detail about the education program that we’re working on which is quite, that leap. It’s called ‘Visualizing Dinosaurs’. We’re working with the Dutch firm with the CIP grant to create something really special. If you can add to it?
Jewels Goff: Yeah. Where the base came from is we wanted something that could work as both in house but also as e-learning or something everyone in the world can access and so it’s actually a create your own dinosaur type project. So you know, you can choose different parts like different heads of dinosaurs, different bodies of different dinosaurs, different tails, different skin textures, different poses. And so you move through these different stages of picking what body parts you want. Picking the skins you want, picking how it poses and it tells you what percentage of different dinosaur it is. And so you can see oh, you know 40 percent Gorgosaurus and 60 percent Pachyrhinosaurus and then you can name your dinosaur and have it in different backgrounds and then we want to expand and have it online so yours can be, say I created that dinosaur and say you created that dinosaur. They could them be in the same space together and kind of interact with each other. And so it’s something that yes we want both in house here but to also be able to go elsewhere. So the Denmark team is very excited about it and creating lots of interesting things and phase one will be coming soon.
George Jacob: So 90 days is when we launch our beta. So it’s fairly soon.
Sabrina: That is soon! That’s exciting. Will you be making your own dinosaurs?
Jewels Goff: Of course!
Sabrina: Do you already have some ideas?
Jewels Goff: Maybe.
Garret: I feel like a Pachyrhinosaurus is going to be very popular among locals.
Jewels Goff: Yeah, they like it.
George Jacob: As you know, we have two beers named after locals […] (00:19:25).
Garret: Oh really?
George Jacob: Yeah, so you can actually taste them in the Dine-O-Saur restaurant. So it launched I think a month and a half ago with the local micro brewery. The first one is called Leptoceratops Lepto Lager and the second is called Honeybrown Hadrosaur honeybrown.
George Jacob: So make sure you have a pint before you leave.
Garret: We’re going to have to. So you mentioned that you might make some travelling exhibits. You have one here right now called ‘Tiny Titans’. Is there any reason why you guys chose that one or anything special about it?
George Jacob: I think renting exhibits is always a little bit tricky with the logistics and one has to find an exhibit that fits their movement circuit without costing an arm and a leg for transport. Like for transportation costs, shipping costs.
Garret: Cause you’re a little bit…
George Jacob: Out of the loop. So the distances in Alberta are great and especially the exhibits coming from the United States so we open with an exhibit from Ottawa which is called ‘Ice Age Mammoths’. And once that exhibit left, the next in line was ‘Tiny Titans’ and we had been angling over this exhibit for almost a year because sometimes it takes several years in advance for you to book and get something. So that it falls within the circuit of availability and that exhibit is developed jointly with Harvard, Yale and University of Kentucky. And it’s an older exhibit but it’s still very powerful and given our space limitations it’s only a fraction of the exhibit that you can see downstairs. Portions of that exhibit are out in the from area of the building and once this exhibit leaves we have a new exhibit coming in which is called “‘Dinosaurs in Flight’ and then subsequently we have another exhibit coming in from New York.
George Jacob: […] (00:21:08) No, I think the bigger cities have the advantage of you know, large underwriter responses and funding. They also have the advantage of a captive audience, so they have, you know, 12 million people right there. And so the dynamics are very different and here we are in a small rural northern Albertan community which does not get favorable weather for six months a year. Alberta winters are brutal and harsh so for children and communities living here, this is perhaps the only place they can get exposed to this sort of content. So whatever we do in terms of outreach and in-house programming has that added responsibility of embracing the needs of a community that is underserved.
Sabrina: That makes sense, so then what kind of specifically do you look for in exhibits to have here?
George Jacob: Well it has to be in sync with our budget. We operate on a very tight budget. We have a small fraction of our funding coming from the county of Grande Prairie and the rest of it has to come from the museum’s programs and ticket sales and gift shop and restaurant and other units that help it survive and with the tumbling oil-based economy, the conventional sources of sponsorship are hard to come by. It might change down the line, because the museum is here for a long, long period of time. So this slick little blips, it has to have the capacity to absorb those punches and still come up with offering the best value for the money.
Sabrina: Yeah, that makes sense. You mentioned in the future you plan to expand and you know, have a place for paleontologists to stay while they’re working, place to get together. You already had a lab, right? What can you do in the labs right now?
George Jacob: So the lab is a fledgling lab, it well equipped but the first step in having the lab as an active resource is to have an active set of specimens here. And in order to hold specimens here, one has to have an […] (00:23:06) status. In order to have […] (00:23:08) status, one has to have that active collaboration with the University of Alberta because the Historic Resources Act requires us to have that sort of an association. So we have just […] (00:23:20) paleontology with U of A and that agreement was signed last year and we will have the first endowed professor based here in the near future in the lab. And once that happens it’ll have the capacity to hold the specimens. It will also have the capacity for us to apply for joint and […] (00:23:39) grants that allow us to engage in active research programs. We can also buy the Nation Geographic grants and other grants. That’ll bring us project staff that will bring us resources from out of the field for active prospecting and engage in an active publications program. So those things, you know, paleontology is such a field that some of those things take time. But the foundation is there, and I think we have the strength to build up from it. As long as we lay all the proper steps in place I think the future generations will continue to build on it.
Garret: That’s great. So can you prepare fossils and that, or do you need your associate professor before you can start doing that kind of work?
George Jacob: We do have over 3,000 marine fossils in the lab and we’ve digitally documented all of them on PassPerfect which is a big step and we used to have a fossil preparation summer program under a certain grant and jointly with GPRC and I believe we can start that fossil preparation and cleaning program any time.
George Jacob: Jewels has been active in getting some young Canada Works students who have been involved with both education and also the collection vault.
Jewels Goff: We’re very excited and happy to have them. We have one of them who’s actively finishing up some of our cataloging and then I have two in my department which I am very happy about. And so they’re doing a lot of our […] (00:25:00) on the weekends and our summer programs. Our during the week ones actually start tomorrow. So we have for ages four to twelve two different programs.
Garret: Very cool. So I know you also have an Amber Ball coming up, is that your first? I think you’ve had a couple other events.
George Jacob: Four, and this is the fifth one I think.
George Jacob: So it started out as a fundraising initiative and at some point we got actors Dan Aykroyd and Donna Dixon involved and we have a theatre named after them.
Garret: Yeah I saw that.
George Jacob: Called the Aykroyd Family Theatre. And the making of the museum documentary, they lent their voices to its narrative and they have been great champions and advisors of the museum. And ambassadors, every summer they come and Dan Akroyd does a Harley Davidson motorcycle rally in support of the museum that bring out five hundred bikers. And in the evening we have an Amber Ball, and that’s our annual fundraiser and that allows us to share our vision and our achievements with the community. And here this is a small tightly knit community so they value their resources very much.
Garret: Yeah I was kind of wondering. Do you know how Dan Aykroyd got involved in it? I know he must have an interest in dinosaurs because I’ve seen him narrate a few other pieces and things.
George Jacob: Mhmm. Well, Mrs. Aykroyd has been active at the Explorer’s club and that brought her to the dig one summer, and my predecessor, Colonel Brian Brake was instrumental in getting them on board as our ambassadors and they embraced the idea and the notion that they could do something with their presence in terms of galvanizing the community to contribute and they were given the key to the Peace Region by the mayor and the […] (00:26:40) of Grande Prairie and they have been quite active in providing that sort of push to promote the institution.
Garret: Cool, that must be very helpful.
George Jacob: Yes, it was.
Garret: Other than the awesome architecture, and the Pipestone bone bed and the 3D printing lab and all those other awesome thing we’ve talked about…
Sabrina: Other than everything.
Garret: Yeah. Is there anything else that you think makes this museum unique or special in some way that we’ve missed?
George Jacob: I think museums are unique and special because of the content they hold and the potential of what they can do to leverage that content, to reach out and influence and inspire many minds. And this is our first year in operation so we’re still two months shy of the first anniversary and we reached a hundred thousand people which is an incredible number. We’ve been rated by Conde Nast World Traveler as ‘Top Ten Destinations’ and the Globe and Mail and with Air Canada. So those are things to kind of watch out for in terms of what it can do beyond the geological limitations of our location. The online program, we’re visualizing dinosaurs and the e-learning modules that we currently have online allow us to reach a wider audience. And then of course the finds that happen at Pipestone Creek will definitely give us the added sort of profile in terms of the depth of content and I think the institution will be successful if it’s able to conduct active research, generate academic publications and also translate some of that complex science into understandable bytes with our exhibit content treatment.
Garret: That’s all the questions I have.
Sabrina: Thank you so much for taking the time.
George Jacob: Well thank you for taking the time of interview.
Sabrina: This has been amazing.
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