Instead of enjoying the first spring-like afternoon of the season outside, dozens of students, faculty, children, and parents packed into Searles 315 to hear a world-famous paleontologist share the stories of exploration and discovery.

Professor of Paleontology at Rowan University Dr. Kenneth Lacovara visited Bowdoin on Wednesday to share the story of his unearthing of Dreadnoughtus schrani, a titanosaur widely considered to be one of the largest terrestrial vertebrates ever discovered.

After several years of excavation in Southern Argentina, Lacovara and his team produced a report examining the unusually complete set of Dreadnoughtus remains. The discovery of the estimated 65-ton dinosaur was widely reported by international media, contributing to an increasing global interest in paleontology and its application with new technology.

“When you get yourself in the right geological situation, you are going to find fossils—that’s a given. The question is will you find something that’s relatively complete and then did you find something that is significant to science, and that’s the thing that’s harder to predict,” said Lacovara. “I was first surprised by the size of the material we were finding—I expected we would find some big sauropod dinosaurs, but these were some of the biggest bones we had ever seen in the world—and then I was flabbergasted when we saw the completeness of the Dreadnoughtus skeleton.

Lacovara spent much of the talk discussing the integration of classic paleontological field techniques and cutting-edge lab techniques, including 3D scanning and printing, CT scanning, biomedical engineering, genome sequencing, and protein isolation. Lacovara, along with many of his coworkers, are pioneering the application of these methods based on the wealth of information made available by the discovery.

The international fame and success experienced by Lacovara and his team was not earned easily. He began working at the site of the eventual discovery—100km from the nearest power grid—in 2004, and was able to secure additional grant money following the excavation of a rare 2.2-meter femur fossil. One year later, he hit the jackpot, and spent the next four years excavating the now-famous set of fossils.

In 2009, the fossils were shipped to the United States, where three labs and more than one hundred fossil experts analyzed the samples for five years.

“There are a lot of paleontologists who would literally step over an animal like that. It’s too much work, it’s too much money, it takes too long,” said Lacovara. “On the other side is that it’s been very satisfying since we’ve published Dreadnoughtus. It achieved a lot of notoriety around the world. 

A Drexel University service that tracks the audience an article gets estimated the audience reached by the Dreadnoughtus story was 4.3 billion people.

Lacovara started his career in paleontology in 2nd grade, with the submission of an essay comparing different types of rock. Through college, he took as many physical science and geography classes as he could, ultimately leading him to a PhD in Paleontology from the University of Delaware. His first big break came following a discussion with a lecturing paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

“I went up and introduced myself and I said “I loved your talk Dr. Dodson, but your sedimentology was all wrong.” 

We had a discussion and the gist of that discussion was basically “OK kid, if you think you can do a better job why don’t you come to Egypt with us.” By the end of that week I was on the team and two months later I was digging up dinosaurs in the oasis in the Sahara desert.” 

For Lacovara, the best part of paleontology is the travel. This urge to explore lead him to Southern Patagonia, an extremely remote region of Argentina with the ideal combination of appropriately-aged sedimentary rock and the high rate of erosion typically found in deserts. His next project, however, allows him to remain much closer to home.

Lacovara has assumed the role of Director of Rowan Fossil Park, a facility at an active fossil site in New Jersey that seeks to perpetuate research and education in Paleontology.”

“The educational component of it is super important, but also I think we’re starting to unravel clues here that will lead to a much more complete understanding of the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,” said Lacovara. “This, for some students, will be their first exposure to the STEM disciplines and for many it will their first exposure to a university setting. We’re immensely excited about this.”

While he doesn’t believe that everyone should be a paleontologist—joking about how there are enough of those already in the world—Lacovara emphasized the importance of teaching the scientific method and scientific method from a young age. Addressing a Searles classroom full of students of all ages, he hoped to inspire the next generation of scientists and explorers of all sorts.

“One of the things that I try to convey to my students is that comfort is way overrated,” said Lacovara. “When you’re comfortable nothing much happens really. Whether that is prospecting for dinosaurs in a desert or standing up in front of everyone you know and getting married or getting up on stage and performing, you’re uncomfortable in every one of those situations. Every one of those kinds of situations has the potential to lead to some of the most profound moments in your life.”

Dakota Griffin contributed to this report.