GRAHAM – Imagine naming a species that lived more than 65 million years ago. Nate Bourne did just that.
The Alamance County high school teacher is credited with the appointment of Galagadon, a new species of prehistoric shark discovered by Connecticut State University professor and researcher at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Terry Gates.
Bourne met Gates, whom he calls "Bucky," as a Kenan Fellow working with the Museum of Natural Sciences in 2015.
The two remained close friends over the years, leading to the fateful day Gates took photos of his latest discovery: small shark teeth embedded in the same rock that once contained Sue, the most famous and complete fossil of T. rex .
Bourne was immediately reminded of a classic arcade game from the 1980s that he played with his cousin as a child.
He pushed [the photos] on your drive and it was like, "Hey, I'm now looking for a name." And I was like, "This looks like Space Invaders or Galaga," and I started pointing to some specifics, and he said: "Galagadon" and kind of went from there, "said Bourne. "He recognized that I got the idea for the name in his work, which was really cool, but I did not find the tooth or I identified the species or something."
Patching Galagadon Together
A cousin of the infamous Megalodon, which could grow up to 60 feet in length, Galagadon was a much smaller shark – estimated to measure 12 to 18 inches in length. His small teeth, less than a millimeter in diameter, were good for eating fish, snails, and lizards.
According to Gates, teeth were found in sediments from what is now South Dakota, which was covered by "forests, marshes and sinuous rivers" 67 million years ago when Galagadon lived.
Although he discovered his teeth a few years ago, the work for which he is the lead author, "New Sharks and Other Chondrichthyans from the Latest Maastrichtian (Upper Cretaceous) of North America," was not published in the Journal of Paleontology until January of this year.
Analyzing any fossil is often a long process, but the sharks present a unique challenge, explained Bourne, where all that remains is the teeth.
Gates based his findings on 12 original dental character traits combined with 136 morphological traits he had collected from a previous study of prehistoric and existing teeth of sharks.
On January 21, Galagadon was introduced to the public, and Bourne's name suddenly appeared in a scientific journal.
Making science accessible
The full name of the shark, Galagadon nordquistae, honors both Bourne and Karen Nordquist, a volunteer who helped Gates sift almost two tons of land to collect another 24 teeth.
"I love that this shows the accessibility of science. … Both parts of that name are attributed to someone who has helped with the process, "said Bourne. "And that's a lot of what Bucky and I talked about specifically when we talk to teachers is that there's this impression that there's this science Big S & # 39; and to get into the process you have to have years and years. study book and field study and you have to be accepted … but to help with the process, being in science, is accessible to anyone. Looking at the natural world and studying is a human trait. How do we break down the barriers that society has created to keep some people feeling that they can not participate in this process? "
Bourne is an academically or intellectually talented specialist for Hawfields and Graham high schools, but spent 15 years as a professor of social studies and science at Broadview Middle School before that.
He and Gates have worked together over the past four years to increase students 'confidence in their own scientific abilities by allowing high school students to collect and analyze shark teeth that are used in Gates' research at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
They sift, find, ask questions and even draw representations of what the shark may have looked like.
"You're not playing science at the moment. You're a scientist," Bourne said.
Reporter Jessica Williams can be contacted at email@example.com or by phone at 336-506-3046. Follow her on Twitter at @jessicawtn.