Picturing the Last Triceratops


Photograph by Anton Oleinik

Art of Science: Picturing the Last Triceratops

Photograph of Dinosaur Bone Wins 2022

Anton Oleinik, Ph.D., associate professor of geology, Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, won first place for his image of a 30-micrometer thick section of a Triceratops leg bone — a prehistoric armored dinosaur — and possibly one of the last of its kind to ever walk the Earth.

Olenik participates in research at the unique fossil site in North Dakota that pinpoints the day dinosaurs died, 65 million years ago. “The sediment precipitated on that day contains remains of the Late Cretaceous dinosaur – Triceratops horridus — a behemoth-size animal with three horns and a frill covering the neck,” he said. Because of the age of the deposit, this specimen might have been the last Triceratops dinosaur to walk on the surface of North America before the age of the dinosaurs was gone forever, Oleinik said. Researchers looked deep inside the bone to see how old the animal was, how long it had lived and was there anything, like disease or pathology, in the bone.

To see the bone like it was presented in the image, it had to be cut and sliced, very thinly, so light passes through and illuminates the most intricate details of the internal structure. A polarizing microscope, known as petrographic, is needed to view a glass slide containing the thin slice of bone, he said. The microscope is designed to view thin slices of rock in polarizing light. Olenik used a Leica DM750P polarizing microscope with a mounted Leica MC170HD digital camera.

Portions of the slide have visible haversian canals, which are minute tubes inside a bone and contain blood vessels. “From a scientific standpoint this image provides information about the density of the bone, patterns of bone growth and a story of the bone preservation for the past sixty-five million years,” Olenik said. “From a non-scientific point – what human artist can make a better abstract art than that?”

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