Tulsa researcher unlocking prehistoric mystery of the Tyrannosaurus rex
TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) -- People have been fascinated by dinosaurs since their first bones were found some 2,000 years ago.
OSU Paleontologist Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard shares that fascination every day in her lab at the OSU Center for Health Sciences. She’s measuring the growth of the Tyrannosaurus rex, because no one is sure how large the dinosaur could get.
It starts with a tile saw like you'd buy at Home Depot. Very thin slices of T-Rex leg bone are polished so they can be examined under a microscope.
She studies their growth curves like you would age a tree.
Woodward Ballard said, "The tissue is a circular pattern, kind of one after the other. So that’s what we count to see how old this animal is when it died."
The T-Rex gets a lot of attention because they may have been the most frightening creature to ever walk the planet. But Woodward Ballard will tell you they're even more interesting as you really get to know them.
She said, "It’s just a huge overgrown chicken basically. It’s just this giant bird with teeth is what it looks like to me."
It’s a bird that could rip off hundreds of pounds of meat with a single bite. While some scientists theorize that T-Rex was a slow scavenger, she doesn't necessarily agree.
Woodward Ballard said, "The thing you have to remember is the stride length of that thing. It would only have to take a few steps and you could be running flat out and it could catch you."
She is very enthusiastic about her work in the lab and hunting for dinosaurs in the summer.
"It died, it was fossilized, it was buried and you're the first person to put a hand on it. It's like reaching back 67 to 66 million years ago. It’s just so exciting."
So far, she's studied 19 T-Rex leg bones with more to come. She says the famous T-Rex skeleton, Sue, at the Field Museum in Chicago is one of the largest ever discovered. At the age of 28, Sue had grown to almost 41 feet and 12,000 pounds.
But Woodward Ballard has never studied the bone of a T-Rex that had stopped growing. It may be that the world was so dangerous in the Cretaceous period, that growing to maturity was a very difficult challenge.