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THE RESEARCH PROBLEM:   The 1995 movie hit Jurassic Park contains an unforgettable scene in which a hungry tyrannosaur stalks a jeep and then chases it down a forest road in an attempt to catch the movie's main characters. In this scene, the tyrannosaur is shown running swiftly just behind the accelerating jeep for several hundred panic-filled meters. Eventually, the tyrannosaur tires, and gives up its pursuit, much to the relief of the jeep's occupants.

The image painted by this movie of an agile, fleet-footed tyrannosaur, is certainly as captivating as any in the movie. It is one of the best devices in the film for making the audience think about dinosaurs as living animals, and for highlighting the notion that we are lucky dinosaurs are extinct, because life would be hard, if not impossible, were they still here.

The monitor and VCR at the front of the laboratory are set up to show this sequence from the movie. We will view this scene to remind you of its details, if you have already seen it, or to introduce the scene to you, if you have not. As you view the scene, reflect on the following questions. We will discuss these issues following the film.

1.   How fast was the jeep going? How can you tell?
2.   Could any modern animals keep up with a speeding jeep? Which ones?
3.   How much of the image created in the movie do you think is true, and how much is artistic license devised by the screenwriters to heighten the intensity of the scene, and to capture the attention of the viewer?
4.   Is the film clip based on factual information?
5.   Do you think a tyrannosaur could really have kept pace with the jeep? Were tyrannosaurs actually fast, agile runners as suggested in the film, or is the movie off the mark about this?

This, then is the question we want to resolve: How fast were tyrannosaurs - really? Could they scamper across the Cretaceous landscape like over-sized race horses? Or were they actually slow, plodding creatures quite different in their locomotor prowess than depicted in the movie?

LAB #2 ASSIGNMENT: Your assignment for Lab #2 is to devise a means of analysis which we can use to estimate the speed that a dinosaur, specifically Tyrannosaurus , could achieve when alive. You should put your proposal in the form of a short essay and email it to me at my office email address. The goal is to come up with a way of generating quantitative data upon which to base an informed opinion about dinosaur running speed. We want to identify ideas that seem to have potential for achieving this end and weed out ideas that appear less useful.

To guide your thinking on this question, consider the following points. Your solution to these problems should be a large part of the report you email to me.

1.     What is speed (or velocity)? How is it defined?
2.     How could you measure the speed of a modern animal, such as a horse or human?
3.   Can you determine the speed of a tyrannosaur using the same method? Why or why not.
4.   Would it be possible to estimate the top speed of two humans, one an olympic sprinter and the other an out-of-shape couch potato of exactly the same height and weight, only from their bones? Why or why not? (Iam not asking if it would be possible to determine which is faster, but to determine the speed of each one).
5.   Could the fossilized bones of dinosaurs be used in some way to infer speed?
6.   Do we actually have to see an animal run to know that it did so? Do animals produce, even if only occasionally, some kind of long-lasting physical evidence of their movements - some remnant of a race to escape a predator for example - that we might recognize later (millions of years later in the case of a tyrannosaur) as indicating that a creature had, in fact, run.

Your response must be emailed to me by 5 PM, Feb. 25 This will allow time for me to respond to your ideas, and ask for clarification if necessary.

You can, if you wish, work in small groups. Any email sent to me by such a group must include the names and email addresses of all people in the group.