The Zanno Lab
The Zanno Lab is housed within The Paleontology Research Laboratory (PRL), a glass-walled, on-exhibit science lab located on the 3rd floor of the Nature Research Center, funded by an innovative partnership between the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University (NCSU). The lab serves as a new model for 21st-century science, synthesizing active paleontological research, fieldwork, and citizen science programs, with graduate and undergraduate student training, K-12 education, teacher treks, and science communication efforts—including the lab's real-time social media platform, Expedition Live!—all on display in front of the museum's ~1M annual visitors.
Dr. Lindsay Zanno, a vertebrate paleontologist with a joint position at the NCMNS and NCSU, supervises the lab's research focus, technical goals, field expeditions, and graduate program. Zanno Lab staff and students study the evolutionary history and paleobiology of Archosauria—the dominant terrestrial megafauna of the Mesozoic Era—including birds, crocodiles, and non-avian dinosaurs. We synthesize a rich fossil record with observations from extant species to tackle complex transitions in diet, reproduction, ornamentation, and other key novelties on geologic time scales.
The lab also has an active field program aimed at identifying ancient biodiversity, patterns of extinction and speciation, and biogeography in Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems. Each year, Zanno Lab staff and students launch several expeditions across Asia and the American West on the hunt for new species. Currently, we are gathering data on faunal dynamics during two particularly turbulent periods in the Cretaceous—the mid-Cretaceous, a time of faunal turnover associated with global temperature spikes and rising seas, and the Campano-Maastrichtian, a time of remarkably high dinosaur diversity linked to the tectonic evolution of the Western Interior Basin of North America.
The Zanno Lab's in-house technical capabilities include blue light and laser three-dimensional surface scanning, 3D printing, polarized microscopy, paleohistology, Computed Tomographic reconstruction, and fossil specimen conservation/preparation facilities. The PRL also serves as the preparation hub for the Paleontology Unit at the NCMNS, training and enlisting dozens of community volunteers in professional fossil conservation practice.