The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology recognized Dr. Thomas J. DeVries with the Alf Award for Excellence in Paleontological Research and Education at the annual Peccary Society dinner on October 21. The award honors a paleontologist who demonstrates exceptional achievement both in original scientific research, as well as in education and outreach at the primary and secondary school (K-12) levels.
Dr. DeVries is a retired high school instructor who served a 22 year career at Vashon Island High School in Washington. In addition to his classroom service teaching earth science, paleontology, and other topics, Dr. DeVries is a noted expert in fossil mollusks and marine geology. He conducts fieldwork with a focus in Peru, contributing to major projects addressing marine upwelling, mollusk evolution, and the deep history of El Niño. DeVries is also an Adjunct Research Associate at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington.
As noted by a colleague, DeVries “[is] able to integrate what he learned from modern advances in paleontology with his K-12 instructional activities.” This bridge between research and education drew the attention of the Alf Award committee, which includes members of the Alf Museum’s board of trustees, museum staff, faculty and head of The Webb Schools. As expressed by Alf Museum director Don Lofgren, “Dr DeVries is a great choice for the Alf Award because he is both an accomplished paleontologist and excellent secondary school science instructor, attributes that match well with the museum’s founder, Dr. Raymond M. Alf.”
“Being an active researcher-teacher buys instant credibility. Whether by means of a casual aside or an organized classroom activity, an active researcher-teacher can open doors for students to the ‘real world’ of science and scientists – and draw those scientists bodily into the classroom,” said DeVries.
Dr. Thomas DeVries has made outstanding contributions to science and education through his career in and out of the classroom, and the Alf Museum is pleased to honor him with the Raymond M. Alf Award for Excellence in Paleontological Research and Education.
The award consists of an honorarium, an award plaque, and all travel costs for the recipient to attend the Alf Museum’s Peccary Dinner on Friday, October 21, to receive the award.
After a journey spanning 75 million years and bridging the Pacific Ocean, a dinosaur skeleton discovered by a Webb student and housed at the Alf Museum made its international debut in Tokyo. The fossil, which has already been viewed by more than 300,000 people, is one of the highlighted specimens in the 2016 Dinosaur Expo, coordinated by The Asahi Shimbun Company and the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.
“Dinosaur Joe” was discovered in 2009 by Kevin Terris ‘09, on a Summer Peccary Trip in Utah. It turned out to be the youngest, smallest, and most complete example of the plant-eating dinosaur Parasaurolophus. After excavation in 2010, the fossil was published in the scientific literature in 2013, with accompanying international press attention. It was this media spotlight that caught the eye of the organizers of the Dinosaur Expo in Japan. The traveling exhibition aims to highlight recent discoveries worldwide, showcasing groundbreaking work within dinosaur paleontology. They contacted the Alf Museum, and began the process of arranging for the fossil’s transport to Japan.
Shipping a dinosaur skeleton across the Pacific is no small matter. First, permission had to be secured from the United States Bureau of Land Management, because the fossil was discovered and collected under permit within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Alf Museum is the caretaker for the specimen, so international loan of the fossil required clearance from the federal government. Once this was secured, planning for the next phase began—how do you safely ship a 75 milion year old dinosaur skeleton?
A team coordinated by Masterpiece International, an exhibit and fine art shipping and logistics firm, designed and built a custom crate to hold “Joe”. Collections manager Gabe Santos and collections assistant Lucy Herrero ‘10 made sure that the fossil was stable and ready for transport. The skeleton was carefully loaded into this crate, and then driven to Los Angeles International Airport for security inspections. The skull, which required special handling, was hand-carried by Augustyn Family Curator Andy Farke. With the skeleton safely stowed in a Japan Airlines cargo hold, and Farke seated up above in the passenger compartment, “Joe” took off for an eleven hour flight to Tokyo. After arrival and unloading, the fossil cleared customs, and then headed over to the National Museum of Nature and Science.
“Dinosaur Joe” was installed just in time for the Dinosaur Expo’s grand opening on March 7. “Joe” was exhibited with many prehistoric friends, including a baby horned dinosaur, gigantic skeletons of Tyrannosaurus and Spinosaurus, and even dinosaur feathers in amber. Advertisements for the exhibition could be seen across Tokyo, and the exhibit opening was widely covered in the Japanese press. Even miniature “Joe” figurines were available in the exhibit gift shop! Over 2,700 people visited the expo in its first day alone, and upwards of 20,000 visitors attended on peak weekends, with over an hour wait to enter the exhibit hall. Within three weeks, attendance had topped 100,000 people, and currently over 500,000 people have seen “Joe”.
After finishing its run in Tokyo on June 12, “Joe” traveled with the rest of the expo to Osaka. From here, the exhibition will finish its run in Kitakyushu. “Joe” will return to the Alf Museum in January 2017.
This international exposure for the Alf Museum and the paleontology program at The Webb Schools is unprecedented. “The display of ‘Dinosaur Joe’ in Japan is an exciting validation of all the work we have done over the past twenty years to put our nationally accredited museum on the international stage,” said museum director Dr. Don Lofgren. “To think that our students have the opportunity to find, excavate, and study specimens of this caliber is a testament to all the support we have received in our drive to create a world class educational and research institution at Webb.”
Imagine being a teenager, and learning about the history of life with actual fossils at your fingertips; or the thrill of discovering a species new to science; or publishing a research project in an internationally-recognized scientific journal. These aren’t just hypotheticals at the Alf Museum. They are at the core of an innovative and unique high school program.
The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools is the only nationally accredited museum in the United States located on a high school campus and the only museum in the world that engages secondary school students in all aspects of it program, particularly fossil collecting and research—an opportunity unique to The Webb Schools. The museum is active in the international scientific community and also provides educational programming for the public.
Webb biology teacher Ray Alf’s early interest in fossils led him to conduct a student expedition to the Mojave Desert in 1936. Fortuitously, Alf and Bill Webb ’39 found a mammal skull belonging to a new, 15 million year-old species of fossil peccary, or pig, a discovery that inspired Alf to undertake a life-long quest to study the history of life. Over the next thirty years Alf led numerous fossil collecting trip or “Peccary trips” where he and his students amassed a large collection of scientifically significant specimens. In 1968, the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology was constructed to house and exhibit Alf’s collections and public tours began. Over the next three decades, there was a drive to bring the museums programs and operations up to professional standards, and in 1998, the Alf Museum was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums—a distinction earned by less than 5% of museums nationwide.
*Federal specimens shown were collected under permit from the Bureau of Land Management and US Fish and Wildlife Service.
In true Hollywood fashion, “rock” stars of the Alf Museum were on hand for the world premiere of Disney/Pixar’s latest animated movie, The Good Dinosaur. Continue reading
One of the most important facets of the Alf Museum is its integration into The Webb Schools, and the extensive opportunities that students have to work with real paleontologists. This is a powerful educational model, and one that deserves to be used more widely. Yet, it is difficult to implement because professional paleontologists are often hesitant to engage in these kinds of efforts with K-12 students for a variety of reasons: lack of time, lack of recognition of its importance by universities, or a shortage of funding, among others. In order to encourage and recognize endeavors outside of Webb, the trustees at the Alf Museum have implemented the Raymond M. Alf Award for Excellence in Paleontological Research and Education. It honors a paleontologist who pursues outstanding original scientific research as well as outstanding education and outreach at the primary and secondary school (K-12) levels in the spirit of Ray Alf. Continue reading