Taylor James

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has opened its virtual classroom doors to viewers globally with its ongoing paleontology series “Old News: What’s New in Paleontology.”

The monthly event is hosted live on YouTube by the museum’s outreach specialist Laura Beth Speer and its research curator of paleontology Dr. Christian Kammerer.

The series began in January 2019 as the museum’s first live stream program and recently gained traction among viewers of all ages.

“At the time when we started, the museum didn’t have any kind of live stream programs or programs where individuals could sign up and come and attend them,” Speer said. “And Christian had the idea to do some kind of program where we would be talking about paleontology news and we thought it would be a good fit.”

All of the episodes are streamed live, offering an open chat for viewers to ask questions and receive a response during the discussion.

Speer said the series is aimed at “ages 12 and above,” with most viewers being students from K-12 schools, college students studying paleontology or retirees looking to stay up to date on paleo news.

“We did one on fossil penguins, where the fossil penguins wing had been preserved (and) intact and you could see the skin and the basis for the feathers,” said Kammerer.

Both Speer and Kammerer said while they are unable to use the on-site specimens offered by the museum, they still use as many visuals as possible including photos and videos when they can.

“When we were in person we had a lot of fun finding toys that would fit into the topic and using those as models, because that is kind of what kids do anyway, right? That’s one way that they learn about animals,” Speer said.

Kammerer said before the pandemic they had access to around 200,000 specimens in their collection, but they are unable to utilize them at this time.

Both Speer and Kammerer hope that viewers can gain a better understanding of paleontology and appreciate the scientific aspect of these studies.

“I hope they also just get a better appreciation for the scientific process, in general, and talking to someone who is actively doing research regularly, but also available to the public once a month is, I think, really valuable,” Speer said.

This interest in dinosaurs has also spread to the Winthrop University campus, as Dr. Diana Boyer, professor of geology, says her dinosaur class “always fills up.”

Boyer teaches a course on dinosaurs, GEOL 270, and said she sees a variety of students interested in this class.

“I think a series like that would take it from memorizing boring facts in the book to seeing a real person and a real face in a real place,” Boyer said.

Richard Hansley, a Fort Mill resident, recently dug into the dinosaur fun as well, as he visited the Jurassic Quest experience, which visited Charlotte Feb. 12-21.

This drive through experience showcased a large array of life sized dinosaurs, giving visitors an educational tour of dinosaur discovery through the years.

Hansley said he found the exhibit “educational and fun for all ages.”

He said the dinosaur models looked “surprisingly realistic” and the digital audio guide was easy to follow along to.

“It was very good and educational. I loved dinosaurs as a kid, so this was fun to see and show to my grandkids,” Hansley said.