April 9, 2002

"The Science of Super Croc" debuts at the Museum of Science and Industry

The Science of SuperCroc, a current exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, features the work of University paleontologist Paul Sereno in a 40-foot-long exact replica skeleton of the largest known crocodilian. The exhibit was created by Project Exploration, the non-profit organization Sereno and his wife Gabrielle Lyon founded to bring natural science to the community and connect children and teachers to working scientists.

The 10,000-square-foot exhibit, which lures visitors through the open jaws of a giant crocodile mouth at its start, is the first to feature SuperCroc, the 110-million-year-old crocodile Sereno's team of high schoolers unearthed in Niger, Africa.

Uncovering the Sarcosuchus imperator (SuperCroc) was a monumental task since man is dwarfed by even one limb of the creature, Sereno explained.

The point of the exhibit is "to give people an idea of what it's like to get one of these objects out of the ground," Sereno said. "We try to give kids and families insight into the science behind the discovery."

Besides a true-to-size replica of SuperCroc and its 36-foot foe, Suchomimus tenerenis, a fearsome fish-eating predatory dinosaur, the exhibit includes tents, camping equipment, and a reconstruction of a SuperCroc egg nest as well as embryos and eggs of living crocodile species. There is SuperCroc skull that is still in one of the jackets used to move it in the field, and in one of the exhibit's tents plays an NBC film showing the process of the find.

To add to the educational experience, the skeleton was made with moveable joints in order to provide visitors with the chance to learn about how joints work, and Sereno's voice, recorded during the dig, can be heard by visitors on speakers throughout the exhibit.

According to Sereno, reconstructing the skeleton involved months of work in the lab, and several University students played active roles in cleaning the skull and putting the bones together.

In addition to all the work that went into the exhibit in the lab, the crew went to Costa Rica to measure living crocodiles to make sure that they had the length and proportions of the animal correct.

Marie Bonda, a visitor from Buffalo, New York, was overwhelmed by the animal's size. "I'm amazed that they uncovered this whole thing in only five months," she said.

The exhibit investigates the science behind questions such as how SuperCroc (an animal as long as a city bus and large enough to eat dinosaurs) grew so big, what kind of a world the ancient creature live in, and what kind of predatory giants inhabited Africa 110-million-years-ago. Through live videos and recordings, it also shows its visitors what it takes to uncover, clean and reconstruct fossils of an extinct giant.

The exhibit will be at the Museum of Science and industry through May 27, when it will depart for a national museum tour.