Hannah Wilson returns to China, describes doors IRES has opened for her

Ni Hao everyone! This is Hannah Wilson, taking over the blog from the 2013 IRES China trip egg-heads. I was a member of the 2012 trip group, and this is my third time visiting Hangzhou and the Zhejiang museum since then. I came to Hangzhou yesterday from Korea, where I’m spending the spring semester at Hallym University as an exchange student from Montana State University.

Much of the work done by students in 2012 and prior at the ZMNH will be published in Historical Biology’s next edition about dinosaur eggs and babies. The MSU IRES faculty, Drs. Frankie Jackson and Dave Varricchio, have been playing an instrumental role in the editing and production of the volume, which we’re all highly anticipating.

Ethan and Nick slave away over measurements of compression ridge angles on spheroolithus and dictyoolithus eggs.

Ethan and Nick slave away over measurements of compression ridge angles on spheroolithus and dictyoolithus eggs.

It has been a lot of fun to be back and to help out with the new students this year on their projects. As they’ve progressed, Ethan and Nick’s project has morphed into a great little study on compression ridge angles of crushed eggs, and Devra and Coralyn have been focused on furthering knowledge about clutch arrangement and egg spacing. Both projects have the potential to be very successful and we’re all excited to see the directions they take in their research in the coming weeks.

Coralyn measures eggs at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History.

This afternoon is the beginning of the Hangzhou “Dragon Boat Festival,” consisting of traditional-style boat racing and events on the many rivers snaking through Hangzhou. A lot has changed here since I visited last September, including the introduction of a brand new metro system and revamped street and stoplights. The food is great (I love Chinese food – Korean food is too spicy!), and right now the sun is shining and beautifully lighting up the walls of the nearby skyscrapers. We’re happy to have a relief from the typical June Hangzhou weather – 2 days of rain, 2 days of sun, 2 days of rain, 2 days of sun…

Devra works on her computer with a clutch.


For those of you new to the IRES program and these trips Montana students have been making the past four years, I want to give you a brief introduction to the grant and its purpose.

In 2009, Drs. Frankie Jackson and Dave Varricchio successfully applied for a $145,000 National Science Foundation research grant called IRES, which stands for “International Research Experience for Students” with which they planned to take nine students per year for three years to the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History (ZMNH) for a month each summer to make sense of the thousands of unidentified dinosaur eggs housed there. Most of the five-week session, which occurs from the end of May until the end of June, is spent in a lab at the ZMNH, but a week is spent at local field sites within Zhejiang Province, and the front and tail ends of the trip are spent sightseeing and being immersed in Chinese culture.

The program is now in its fourth year (2013), as frugal spending and budgeting have afforded five more lucky students the opportunity to participate in international research and networking. There are myriad purposes of the grant program, including opening doors for undergraduate research early on for Montana students (three of the four students in the 2013 group have just finished their freshman year at MSU), learning how to write scientifically and properly execute the scientific method, and gain field experience. But in addition to these values, I’d like to personally explain the influence of the program in my life.

For a year beginning in March 2012, approximately the same time I learned of my acceptance to the IRES program for 2012, I received an MSU research grant called the “Vice President for Research” (VPR) grant, allowing me to begin a research project about egg porosity with Dr. Frankie Jackson, during which I learned a lot about dinosaur eggs and the field of paleontology in general. The summer of 2012 consisted of traveling to China on the IRES grant, doing fieldwork at Egg Mountain in Choteau in July, and continuing a project about crushing on the ZMNH eggs from the China trip, all under the direction of Dr. Varricchio. By the end of the summer I had a poster ready for the “Fifth International Symposium on Dinosaur Eggs and Babies” held in Hangzhou in September. With part of my VPR grant I was able to travel back to Hangzhou to present my research from both my project with Frankie and my project from China. Christian Heck (a colleague from the trip, who also shares first authorship on our paper) and I worked on re-drafting our work in China all year, until just a few weeks ago when we learned of its acceptance into the next dinosaur egg edition of Historical Biology.

Since then I’ve successfully applied for a Korean Government Scholarship to fully fund all aspects of my semester abroad this spring at Hallym University, relying heavily on the cultural impacts China had on me on my application. I am confident that the international research and cultural experience afforded me by the IRES trip greatly contributed to my success in Korea and the financial support I’ve received for it. Thanks to the last dollars of my VPR grant and the generosity of Dr. Jackson in hosting me for this long weekend, I’m back in Hangzhou (visiting from Korea this time) for a third time in a year, discussing projects and sharing my experience with the new students. I’m so grateful for every door that has been opened to me as a result of the IRES grant and the investment Dr. Varricchio and Dr. Jackson have had in my research endeavors this year. I am so excited to see where this year’s projects will lead in the coming months.

Written by Hannah Wilson, 6/8/2013

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