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STEM Lecture

09-21-2011


Do other planets have dinosaurs? Lecture explores theory


When the movie "Jurassic Park" was released in 1993, it captivated audiences with its revolutionary use of computer-generated imagery. But also compelling was the story line of the movie and the book that inspired it: that dinosaurs perhaps could be cloned using DNA extracted from a mosquito trapped in amber.

While Dale Russell loved that idea, he had one even more intriguing: What if dinosaurs didn’t need to be cloned? What if they currently exist – albeit on other planets? Russell discussed that theory before a packed audience in the first STEM lecture of the new semester on Sept. 20 in the University Union Redwood Room.

The idea of dinosaurs inhabiting distant worlds is part of a larger concept that Russell, an adjunct professor of Geology at Sac State, outlined in his lecture presented by the Center for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Excellence. That concept is, essentially, that the universe follows a certain order and that evolution, no matter where it might occur, is predictable. Elements and chemistry are the same everywhere in the universe and they will act predictably – or, as Russell says, “reasonably.”

“Everything we know is part of something else,” he says, “so the universe represents the integral of everything, which all fits into each other. Which means the universe as we know it doesn’t have randomness, either; otherwise there wouldn’t be the structure that’s in it.”

Russell received his master’s degree from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Columbia University. Before coming to Sac State, he was the coordinator of dinosaur research at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences from 2003 to 2010. He also was a research professor at North Carolina State University from 1995 to 2003 and from 1965 to 1995 was curator of fossil vertebrates/dinosaurs at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. In addition to his love of dinosaurs, he claims a long-held affinity for the stars, and will include among the 40-plus slides in his presentation many NASA-generated images featuring photos of planetary surfaces. The idea of life existing in a predictable manifestation is the wider theory behind his ideas about dinosaurs – as well as animals resembling cats, snakes, rodents and deer – inhabiting distant planets.

Russell says there is no wider scientific community of thought that espouses the idea of dinosaurs as possibly currently existing. To him, the notion simply makes sense. So just because we haven’t discovered another Earth-like planet doesn’t mean they don’t exist –that life wouldn’t manifest itself in a fashion that mirrors the way it has here.

 “I can’t believe that of all the gazillion planets there are that the Earth would be such a stunning exception,” he says.

For more on the Center for STEM Excellence, go to www.csus.edu/stem/. For media assistance, contact Sac State’s Office of Public Affairs at (916) 278-6156.

– Ahmed V. Ortiz
aortiz@csus.edu