Tag Archive for Ellen Thomas

Sea Dwelling Teleosaur Restored and Displayed in Exley Science Center

exley exhibit

A restored Teleosaur cast was mounted in Exley Science Center this month after spending 63 years in storage. Plaster casts are not fakes, but accurate replicas of actual specimens that retain fine details of the original that are important for study and access, especially for fragile specimens, destroyed originals, or specimens in private collections. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

A 7-foot-long extinct marine crocodile has finally found a permanent home on Wesleyan’s campus—exactly 150 years after it arrived.

Known as a Teleosaur (Macrospondylus bollensis), the sea-dwelling lizard lived during the early Jurassic period, approximately 180 million years ago. A cast was gifted to Wesleyan in 1871 by chemist Orange Judd of the Wesleyan Class of 1847, and the namesake of the University’s Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences.

When the museum closed in 1957, more than 900 animal casts, including the Teleosaur, were moved into storage in random locations throughout campus.

teleosaur

Yu Kai Tan BA/MA ’21 and Andy Tan ’21 restored the Teleosaur’s cast using more realistic coloring.

Over sixty years later, the Teleosaur cast was discovered in a large packing case in the Exley Science Center penthouse.

“When we unpacked it, it was still in reasonable shape. There weren’t many cracks, but the paint on its surface was badly damaged and there were many white spots,” said Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Emerita Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History.

Thomas, along with Yu Kai Tan BA/MA ’21 and Andy Tan ’21, is spearheading efforts to restore and display the hundreds of artifacts placed in storage following the natural sciences museum’s closing. All restored casts become part of Wesleyan’s Joe Webb Peoples Museum.

The restored Teleosaur was originally exhibited alongside another 22-foot-long Teleosaur which—as seen in archival photos—was built into the wall of the museum.

“That large specimen was destroyed when the wall was blasted to pieces during renovations to the building but this one, thankfully, survived,” Yu Kai Tan said.

The team began working on it during the first phase of COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020 and finished the restoration in May 2021 with the help of student curators, Cole Goco ’23 and Vivian Gu ’23. They used compressed air for the general dusting of the specimen and consolidated the cracks with archival resin. The missing paint flecks were filled in, then the entire specimen was retouched with colors that reflect the color of the original fossil.

“When these casts were custom-made for Wesleyan in 1871, they were rather simply painted with available paints at hand. Our restoration with modern reversible archival paints creates a better visual relief and more accurately reflects the original specimen from which the cast was made,” Tan said.

To top it off, they applied several coats of UV-resistant archival varnish to stabilize the paint surface and protect it from fading.

According to Henry Ward’s Catalogue of Casts of Fossils from 1866, the Teleosaur’s jaws were “armed with numerous long, slender, sharp-pointed, slightly curved teeth” and the hind limbs were “longer and stronger” than the forelimbs, “which indicated that the T. was a better swimmer” than the modern-day crocodile and likely “lived more habitually in the water and less seldom moved on drylands as its fossil remains have only been found in the sedimentary deposits from the seas.”

The Teleosaurus joins several other recently-restored creatures from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum and Collections including a single-tusked walrus skull, a restored taxidermied peacock, a Mosasaur marine lizard cast; an armadillo-like Glyptodon cast, and the “terrible beast” Deinotherium cast. The casts are used frequently for outreach and teaching.

Funding for the restoration projects is supported in part by Henry Monmouth Smith (1868-1950), a former Wesleyan chemistry professor well known for his book on Gaseous Exchange and Physiological Requirements for Level and Grade Walking, and Torchbearers of Chemistry. Smith left money to Wesleyan “to use and apply the income for the care, maintenance and increase of the collections in its Museum of Natural History.”

View additional photos of the restored Teleosaur below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

exley exhibit

The original fossil was discovered in Baden-Württemberg, Germany in 1828. The cast, which measures 7-feet 2-inches by 2-and-a-half-feet, originally cost $18. Today, it is still for sale at $1,450.

teleosaur

The Teleosaur cast is prominently displayed inside Exley Science Center. “Yu Kai and Andy aimed to restore it to the colors of the original,” Thomas explained. “The fossils are partially replaced by pyrite (‘fool’s gold, iron sulfide), hence the golden color.”

Thomas Co-Authors 5 Studies on Oceanic Environmental Stress

Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, is the co-author of five scientific papers.

All are part of the output of international collaborations of which her Wesleyan-based research was a part, funded by the National Science Foundation over the last three years.

“All the studies look at different aspects of the behavior of microscopic organisms in the oceans under past environmental stress, whether caused by the impact of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, or past episodes of global warming or cooling, and at the effect of different rates of environmental change on these life forms,” she said. “We then use these past effects to look into potential effects of future global warming on these oceanic organisms and oceanic ecosystems in general.”

The papers are:

Photosymbiosis in planktonic foraminifera across the Palaeocene Eocene Thermal Maximum,” published in the March 2021 issue of Paleobiology.

Bentho-pelagic Decoupling: The Marine Biological Carbon Pump During Eocene Hyperthermals,” published in the March 2021 issue of Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology.

Updating a Paleogene magnetobiochronogical timescale through graphical interpretation,” published in the January 2021 issue of MethodsX.

Turnover and stability in the deep sea: benthic foraminifera as tracers of Paleogene global change,” published in the November 2020 issue of Global and Planetary Change.

In addition, her paper “Benthic foraminiferal turnover across the Dan-C2 event in the eastern South Atlantic Ocean (ODP Site 1262),” is forthcoming in the June 2021 issue of Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Single-Tusked Walrus Skull Settles into Olin Library

walrus

On Jan. 20, crews installed a walrus exhibit in Olin Library. Pictured, from left back row, are Katherine Brunson, assistant professor of archaeology and East Asian studies; Wendi Field Murray, Archaeology Collections manager and adjunct assistant professor of East Asian studies; Andrew White, Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian; Ann Burke, professor of biology; Bruce Strickland, instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; David Strickland, instrument maker; and Vivian Gu ’23. Pictured, kneeling, from left, are Yu Kai Tan ’20 and Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21.

Olin Library’s newest resident is looking for a good book to sink his tusk into.

The skull of a one-toothed walrus, which was installed in the Campbell Reading Room on Jan. 20, is the University’s latest exhibit on display from the former Museum of Wesleyan University (1871–1957). The piece was donated to Wesleyan 145 years ago by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History but has spent about half of its university life in storage.

The 26-pound skull, which is missing its right tusk, belonged to a Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) living along the Ugashik River in Alaska in 1876. The aquatic mammal would use its tusks to climb onto ice flows, attract mates, establish social structure, or for combat.

“We’re not exactly sure what happened to its other tusk,” said Professor of Biology Ann Campbell Burke. “In the wild, they don’t naturally shed their tusks, but they do get broken. This one was removed after death.”

Hot off the Press: Short Stories by Ospina; Research Articles by Thomas

ospina book Associate Professor of Spanish María Ospina’s collection of short stories, Azares del Cuerpo (Variations on the Body), was published in Spain in September 2020, after being previously published in Colombia, Chile, and Italy. The book also is forthcoming in the U.S. next summer by Coffee House Press.

Azares del Cuerpo was reviewed in one of Spain’s most important national newspapers (El Mundo) on Oct. 30. Read more here.

Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, is the co-author of three papers:

They include:

The enigma of Oligocene climate and global surface temperature evolution,” published in PNAS on Oct. 13, 2020;

I/Ca in epifaunal benthic foraminifera: A semi-quantitative proxy for bottom water oxygen in a multi-proxy compilation for glacial ocean deoxygenation,” published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Vol. 533, March 2020.

And “Earth history of Oxygen and the iprOxy,” published in Cambridge Elements’ series on “Elements in Geochemical Tracers in Earth System Science.”

Thomas Honored for Excellence in Foraminiferal Research

ellen thomas

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, is the recipient of the 2020 Joseph A. Cushman Award for Excellence in Foraminiferal Research.

At Wesleyan, Thomas investigates oceanic benthic foraminifera (eukaryotic unicellular organisms) as proxies for the impact of changes in environment and climate on living organisms on various time scales. This fall, she’s teaching the courses Research Frontiers in the Sciences and Mass Extinctions in the Oceans.

Brian Huber, president of the Cushman Foundation for Foraminiferal Research noted that the Cushman Foundation Board of Directors agreed that Thomas “richly deserve[s] being honored for [her] voluminous and highly impactful contributions to foraminiferal research and the broader disciplines of paleoceanography, paleoclimatology and environmental science. [Her] influence as a mentor and educator and [her] leadership and selfless public service contributions to the international research community are also considered outstanding.”

Thomas received the award during the virtual Geological Society of American Meeting last fall.

Students, Alumni to Make Presentations at Geological Society of America Meeting

Wesleyan students, graduate students, and recent alumni will present research posters during the annual Geological Society of America meeting Oct. 26–30. The virtual event will allow for a five-minute presentation followed by a five-minute period to answer questions.

poster

Earth and environmental sciences graduate student Yu Kai Tan ’20 and Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21 will present their poster, titled “Freshwater Mussels in North America: Museum Collections and Pre-Industrial Biogeography,” at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 29. Their advisors are Ann Burke, professor of biology, and Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences. Listen to the presentation in advance online here.

Hot off the Press: Ellen Thomas Co-Authors 3 New Papers

Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, is the co-author of:

Miocene evolution of North Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature,” published in Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 35, in April 2020.

Extensive morphological variability in asexually produced planktic foraminifera,” published in Science Advances, 6, in July 2020.

Origin of a global carbonate layer deposited in the aftermath of the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary impact,” published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 548, in October 2020.

Prehistoric Marine Lizard Exhibited Permanently in Olin Library

Mosasaur

On June 22, crews installed a Mosasaur exhibit in Olin Library. Pictured, from left, are Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Yu Kai Tan ’20; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences and Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History; Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology; Andrew White, Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian; and Jessie Steele, library assistant. Pictured in front kneeling is Andy Tan ’21.

As part of the University’s efforts to “activate campus,” a third prehistoric creature has taken up residence at Wesleyan.

The new Mosasaur exhibit is on permanent display inside Olin Library and is a collaboration of faculty, student, and staff efforts.

Mosasaurus hoffmannii Mantell (Mosasaur), a marine lizard, lived in the oceans during the Late Cretaceous period (66 to 68 million years ago) when the last dinosaurs walked the Earth. Mosasaurs had long, snake-like bodies with paddle-like limbs and flattened tails. Some specimens grew to be more than 50 feet long.

In 1871, chemist Orange Judd of the Wesleyan Class of 1847 donated the Mosasaur cast to the University, where it was prominently displayed for years at the University’s Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences. In 1957, the museum closed and thousands of artifacts, including the Mosasaur, were haphazardly stuffed into crates and boxes and stored in random locations throughout campus. For 60 years, the cast remained in its crate, first in the tunnels below Foss Hill, then tucked in the Exley Science Center penthouse, from where it was exhumed by Wesleyan staff and students in 2017.

Thomas Co-Authors 5 New Publications

Thomas

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, is the co-author of five new publications. They include:

Thomas: Carbon Impact—Not Volcanism—Key in Driving the Cretaceous Mass Extinction

Thomas

Ellen Thomas

(By Kayleigh Schweiker ’22)

As scientific study regarding the mass extinction of marine life during the Cretaceous era has progressed, theories including extraterrestrial impact and intense volcanism have surfaced. However, a recent study co-authored by Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, suggests that carbon impact—not volcanism—was key in driving the Cretaceous mass extinction.

In a paper titled “Rapid ocean acidification and protracted Earth system recovery followed the end-Cretaceous Chicxulub impact,” which was published in the Oct. 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Thomas and her colleagues discuss how increases in ocean acidity played a driving force in the mass extinction of marine organisms. This mass extinction, labeled the “Crustaceous-Palogene die-off,” or the K-Pg event, led approximately 75% of plant and animal life on Earth to extinction. Though scientists have suggested that the presence of sulphuric acid proceeding the crash may have caused ocean pH levels to drop, Thomas and her team’s research on this topic reveals a different possibility.

“Terrible Beast” Takes Residence in Exley Science Center

Exley Science Center is now home to its second prehistoric specimen—a massive land animal known as a Deinotherium giganteum. This elephant-lookalike would have weighed up to 20,000 pounds and would use their massive tusks for stripping bark from tree trunks for eating and for dominating fellow males during mating season.

Exley Science Center is home to its second prehistoric specimen—a massive land animal known as a Deinotherium giganteum—or “terrible beast.” The skull cast is displayed in the hallway between Exley Science Center and the passway to Shanklin Laboratory and is part of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History. The exhibit was installed on Feb. 26.

In 2017, the Deinotherium skull was discovered in two wooden boxes by faculty and students exploring Exley Science Center’s seventh-floor penthouse. The skull was once a centerpiece to Wesleyan’s Natural History Museum, located on the top floor of Judd Hall (pictured at left). After the museum closed in 1957, the Deinotherium and thousands of other specimens and objects were relocated and displaced around campus. The skull was first housed in the tunnels beneath the Foss Hill residence hall and relocated to Exley in 1970. (Historic photo courtesy of Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives)

Thomas’s Science Paper Examines Earth’s Oxygen Levels over Geological Time

Ellen Thomas

Throughout time, rising oceanic and atmospheric oxygen levels have been crucial to the habitability of environments at the surface of the Earth.

“The Earth had no free oxygen gas in its atmosphere early on,” said Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences. “The oxygen has been provided over time by photosynthesis of algae followed by storage of organic matter in rocks.”

Thomas, who also is research professor of earth and environmental sciences, examines the timing of oxygen formation in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans over geological time in a study published in the May 2018 issue of Science.

The paper, titled “Late Inception of a Resiliently Oxygenated Upper Ocean,” stems from a multiyear, multinational, multiauthor research effort that explores the time trend and causes of increased oxygenation during the current Phanerozoic Eon, which began more than 542 million years ago. Thomas and her colleagues used iodine geochemistry to determine that the upper section of the ocean became rich in oxygen much later than previously predicted, linked to evolution of oceanic phytoplankton.

The research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant at Wesleyan and coauthored by scientists at Syracuse University and the University of California, Riverside.

The study also is featured in the May 2018 issue of Science Daily and Phys.org.