Nature Research Center

Paleontology & Geology Research Lab

The Paleontology and Geology Research Laboratory of the Nature Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences seeks to become the premier center for paleontological research in the southeastern US. Our team of paleontologists, students, and volunteers conduct annual expeditions to collect dinosaur and other vertebrate fossils from multiple field sites across North Carolina, the southwestern USA, and abroad. Visitors to the Paleontology and Geology lab will learn about the trials, tribulation, and exhilaration of finding and collecting fossils and will be able to observe the painstaking process of preparing them for scientific research.

Dr. Lindsay Zanno pointing out features of a duckbill dinosaur skull to visitors.

Dr. Lindsay Zanno, one of the world’s leading experts on the anatomy, biology, and evolutionary relationships of theropod dinosaurs—a group that includes the iconic megapredator T. rex as well as living birds—supervises the lab’s research and technical goals. One of her team’s most compelling long-term projects involves studying the growth and life history of the feathered dinosaur Falcarius utahensis using long bone histology. Each summer the crew returns to a mass death site in the southwestern US where they unearth hundreds of bones of Falcarius individuals of all ages from babies to adults. Zanno’s team also conducts annual expeditions to identify how climate change and geography influenced biodiversity and extinction patterns during the Cretaceous of North America 125-65 million years ago.

The Paleontology lab also focuses on collecting and studying fossils from the Triassic Period (otherwise known as the “dawn of the dinosaurs”) under the guidance of NCMNS paleontology curator Vince Schneider, an expert in Triassic Fossils. Fossil beds here in North Carolina preserve some of the most significant Triassic fossils known worldwide and provide a critical window on ecosystem rebound after global mass-extinction. Our lab team conducts regular treks to local sites to collect the remains of these ancient crocodiles, armored reptiles, and proto-dinosaurs that roamed North Carolina 225 million years ago. Other projects on exhibit include anatomical research on duckbill dinosaurs and paleoecology of lower vertebrates (e.g., lizards, frogs, salamanders, fish), spearheaded by research associate Dr. Terry Gates, biochemical analysis of fossilized giant squid remains by paleontology collections manager Trish Weaver, as well as groundbreaking research on ancient biomolecules led by research curator Dr. Mary Schweitzer.

Finally, the Paleontology & Geology lab serves as a hub for acclaimed history of natural science researcher Dr. Paul Brinkman, who also supervises the fossil preparation program. Dr. Brinkman studies the life and work of renowned evolutionary biologists such as Charles Darwin and the spread of scientific ideas from Europe to the new world in the 18th and 19th centuries. His most recent book, The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush: Museums & Paleontology in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, is a history of the fiercely competitive nature of dinosaur paleontology in American museums. Each year Dr. Brinkman and colleagues collect Oligocene fossils from the White River Badlands in Nebraska.

Director: Dr. Lindsay Zanno

Assistant Director: Dr. Paul Brinkman

Assistant Lab Manager: Lisa Herzog

Support the Falcarius Paleobiology Project (AKA Feathered Dinosaur Death Pit).

Expedition Blog

Donate to the Paleontology Research & Expedition Fund
The Paleontology Research & Expedition Fund finances paleontological fieldwork and research at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, under the guidance of PGL director, Dr. Lindsay Zanno. Funds go directly to discover and research fossils across the US and abroad.