The University of Chicago News Office
Nov. 17, 2003 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

Dinosaur Expedition 2003 brings scientific discovery onto the Web, into the classroom


Additional Contact:
Murtza Naseem



An innovative Web site created by Project Exploration is following University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno’s dinosaur expedition into the Sahara.

Online visitors from around the world—averaging 27,000 each week—can experience venomous snakes, malfunctioning land rovers and exhilarating discoveries along with Sereno’s crew as the expedition winds to a close in the coming two weeks.

During the two-month expedition, Sereno has led an international team of researchers to the western African nation of Niger in search of Africa’s youngest dinosaurs. Project Exploration’s Dinosaur Expedition 2003 is a multimedia project that allows visitors to follow Sereno’s work in the Sahara and witness discoveries as they unfold.

The Web site is located at Weekly updates written by team members, including Sereno himself, are supported with interdisciplinary classroom activities, an image gallery of field photos and a message board that lets visitors send words of encouragement to the team. Dinosaur Expedition 2003—the third online expedition run by Project Exploration—is designed with teachers and students in mind.

“We know from the success of projects like the ‘Quest’ series and the JASON Project that online adventure learning is something that teachers find useful and kids find fascinating,” said Web site co-creator and Project Exploration Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon. “With Dinosaur Expedition 2003 we get to pair the power of the Internet with real-life science—science that is extra-meaningful because it’s so personalized. Our hope is that the Web site is a teaching tool for educators—and can be a model for other scientific researchers.”

“It’s not often that people can get a real sense of the challenges you have to face under desert conditions,” said Sereno, who, along with Lyon, co-founded Project Exploration in 1999. “We’re working to push back the frontiers of what we know about dinosaur evolution on Africa, and we’re thrilled that students have the opportunity to share the excitement with us.”

A highlight of the project is weekly correspondence between the team members and Chicago-area schools and their families. “Students are able to get to know team members through the Web site—and then they get their questions individually answered online. It not only validates students’ work in the classroom, it’s something they take home with them and share with their parents,” Lyon said.

The Web site’s cutting-edge satellite technology enables the team to send text as well as high-resolution photographs. The computers and satellite system are powered by truck batteries charged by a solar panel. “The information travels 23,000 miles over the equator and then comes back down another 23,000 miles,” said Mike Hettwer, the system creator and expedition photographer. “There’s a one-second delay. Technical breakdowns or computer failures can pose a real problem—FedEx still doesn’t deliver to our part of the desert,” he joked.

Project Exploration is a Chicago-based nonprofit science education organization dedicated to making science accessible to the public—especially city kids and girls. In addition to online initiatives, the organization provides youth development programs, services for schools and teachers, and it manages a traveling exhibition program featuring Sereno’s dinosaur discoveries.

Dinosaur Expedition 2003 is sponsored by the National Geographic Education Foundation and Telenor, the world’s leading provider of global communications via satellite for customers on land, at sea and in flight.
Last modified at 01:41 PM CST on Monday, November 17, 2003.

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