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New Lecturer Brings Dino Expertise to Merced

September 7, 2007

New Lecturer Brings Dino Expertise to Merced

Matt Wedel is a new lecturer at UC Merced this semester, but you won’t have any trouble distinguishing his office.

“I’ll probably fill it up with bones,” said Wedel, whose main interest is paleontology. “I’m constantly accumulating them. Some I find on hikes, some I pull out of dead critters and clean up myself. I like having bones around - they’re great conversation starters, most of them come with a good story, and they’re good teaching tools. People are always curious about bones.”

Although this is Wedel’s first full-time teaching position, he has already published 10 research papers as a graduate student. Hailing from Oklahoma, he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology at the University of Oklahoma and finished his dissertation at UC Berkeley this spring.

What Wedel finds particularly fascinating about dinosaurs - and what most people don’t know - is that the largest dinosaurs had air-filled vertebrae. In some species, the vertebrae were 90 percent air.

“I think this is an important clue about how they were able to get so big,” he said. In his current research, he uses CT scans to explore the air spaces inside old dinosaur bones and compare them with birds.

“It’s a real cool combination of cutting-edge technology and really old bones,” he said.

Wedel was attracted to UC Merced because the geography and culture of the Central Valley is similar to the Great Plains where he grew up.

He is also excited about working at the same place as his high school sweetheart - his wife, Vicki, a forensic anthropologist and bioarchaeologist now on faculty at UC Merced. They have one 2-year-old son.

“These days, just finding a babysitter and sneaking out for a real ‘grown-ups-only’ date is an adventure in itself,” he said.

Wedel taught throughout graduate school and was awarded the Teaching Effectiveness Award at Berkeley. Last fall one of his papers won the International Award in Paleontology Research.

He will be teaching introductory classes in biology and the writing program this fall, but his office will be open for anyone interested in boning up on some paleontology as well.