NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LIVE with paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim at Wharton Center | Greater Lansing Area Moms

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LIVE – Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous is at Wharton Center this Sunday and GLAMoms had the opportunity to speak with paleontologist and host of the show, Nizar Ibrahim. This will be the first of three upcoming Nat Geo shows at Wharton Center each with immersive storytelling and unforgettable imagery!

Wharton Center explains, “With amazing video recreating the lost world of the Cretaceous-era Sahara, Ibrahim tells the story of Spinosaurus’ discovery, loss and rediscovery, and explains what—other than its size—makes this ancient monster unique.”

Nizar Ibrahim has been with National Geographic since 2012 after an email informing him that they had selected him as one of their new emerging explorers.  

And this week GLAMoms had the opportunity to talk with Nizar and learn more about both the upcoming production at the Wharton Center and more about this young paleontologist who has accomplished much!

Hi Nizar!  Welcome to Greater Lansing Area Moms!  Where are you today?

Currently, Portsmith, in southern England.  Then Germany, and then I’m flying to Michigan, for a Nat Geo event on Sunday!  This is a crazy week!

How did you first become interested in paleontology?

When I was about five years old is when I discovered the idea about dinosaurs –  extinct animals and this incredible ancient lost world I didn’t even know existed.  As a kid, I loved animals and always wanted to find out more.   I had all these questions – like –  how does a giraffe pump blood up its long, long neck and what did the very first amphibians look like and more questions about dinosaurs.  

I also really enjoyed reading about stories, of exploration to far flung corners of the world and I would read books about people, climbing up the highest mountains, and exploring jungles, and rainforests and in deserts.  I realized that paleontology would allow me to combine those two passions – animals and traveling the world.

Where would you direct a child who expressed interest in paleontology?

Reading but also exploring.   Reading because with books you can explore these far corners of the world from their room.  I think another thing that’s really important is just some nurturing of their interest in the natural world.  Even just taking them out of doors. 

Kids are natural born explorers.  They are very amazing and they always question why.   They love to explore the outdoors and lots of time we do not really do enough to nurture this natural curiosity.  I think that’s really important because it means they are looking at the world like a scientist, and you ask questions like a scientist and it’s really good training.  

Go for a fossil hunt – It’s a really fun activity outdoors and it connects them with the concept that we call deep time – picking up a fossil that is hundreds of millions of years old – that is a pretty amazing experience.

How do you become a paleontologist? 

There are different pathways to get you to a future in paleontology. You can get there by geosciences, learning geology and earth science; You can also get there via biology, and anatomy because, if you want to map out an animal skeleton muscles attached to the bones, you need to be a really good biologist.   

I combined the two.  I graduated from Universal Bristol in the UK with an honors degree in geology and biology, had some training in both, and then got my PhD, in anatomy, in Ireland, and then did my post doc at the University of Chicago.  Every paleontologist has taken a different path to do this profession.  There are few places that offer a degree in paleontology.  

The dust – literally – does not settle during the day of a paleontologist…

Paleontologist face incredible multifaceted discipline,  you get to explore amazing things – one day, you might be excavating fossils in ancient rocks in a desert and then another day you are working in a lab and you are dissecting an alligator trying to learn more about their tail muscles and while another day you are at a computer using cutting edge technology – For example we used a CT scan to look inside the skulls of dinosaur brain!

Can you tell us a little bit of what the show will be like at the Wharton Center?

It is going to be a really fun and immersive experience.  There will be some great storytelling and imagery.  They create incredible pieces to see these dinosaurs animated and kind of come back to life and see the animals moving and interacting with each other. 

I’ve done this for a few years and it always amazes me how this story in particular brings together all those people from all walks of life, all ages –  everyone enjoys dinosaurs!   This show has something for everyone.  It’s a fun experience for young kids and grandparents. 

What dinosaur in particular is the Nat Geo production at Wharton Center about?

The spinosaurus. We were trying to track down this giant predator dinosaur bigger than a T-Rex.  The only spinosaurus  skeleton that was known for a very long time, was actually destroyed in World War II.  (Since) We now discovered the only one in the world.  

I really was like finding that the Holy Grail of dinosaur paleontology.  

How long is the show on Sunday?

It is a little over 70 minutes and then a Q&A and – as I’m sure you can imagine kids usually ask the best questions!  They really, put me on the spot!  Then we typically also have a meet and greet after the show and people can get their spinosaurus poster signed and ask any more questions they may have. 

Are you on stage by yourself?

Most of the time I travel alone.  It is a pretty well oil machine.  The venues have everything they need to run the show and do a great job!  It is just me and the dinosaurs. 

Sometimes there are thousands of people in the audience yet it is kind of an intimate experience because it’s as close as you can be to these real stories of exploration. When you are sitting in the audience it’s like you are right there.  Suspenseful moments and they really want to know what’s gonna happen next, a lot of twists and turns – and in this story in particular – I don’t want to reveal!

Someone once wrote an article about the show and said “…this has more twists and turns than Game of Thrones.”

What sort of fossils are dinosaurs, inhabited this area or this region of the United States? 

Michigan is a great place to find certain kinds of fossils. They have lots of extinct, elephant relatives mammals – the wooly mammoth.  If you go to Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History to see some. Michigan does not have enough exposed rock or rocks of the right age.  Dinosaurs, roamed this part of the United States it is just the rock is not exposed at the surface of Michigan

We know that some of the most iconic dinosaurs roamed North America in the age of dinosaurs. Animals like T-Rex, stegosaurus, Tea Rex for Sarah tops, and others could be found in the United States and Canada.

Why are there so many North American and European dinosaur discoveries?

The reason for that is that some is largely based on discoveries from places like North America and Europe and because that is where most of the research happened.

Most museums are not really a global perspective and that is one reason why I do a lot of my work in Africa.  Africa is our planet’s second largest landmass and we know very little about Africa during the age of dinosaurs.  Yet Africa had amazing dinosaurs. 

We are just beginning to write this chapter of the dinosaur story.  

What are some of your favorite museums in the United States?

That’s a great question! I really like the Field Museum in Chicago – I might be a little biased since I lived there.  The American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the National History Museum of Utah.

There are also a lot of smaller museums in Wyoming and Montana.  In the past people would dig up the dinosaurs and bring them to be studied and displayed on the east coast.  The people of the area (Wyoming and Montana) did not get to see the dinosaurs.  Now small, local museums have opened up in different places – if you’re on a road trip through Wyoming you will also find some dinosaurs.

How long do you think the spinosaurus young stayed with the mom?

That’s a good question and maybe this is going to surprise you.  The first thing – some dinosaurs almost certainly took care of the young while others probably did not. Some may have fed and looked after their young.  The really big ones – with the  long tails and long necks – probably just abandon their eggs.  Their mere size – they would have stepped on their eggs.  

It is amazing that in some dinosaurs, the little ones are pretty much out on their own.  There is some evidence that suggests that it wasn’t just the moms, looking after the little ones but also daddy dinosaurs.

Some dinosaurs we found sitting on a clutch of eggs and they were originally interpreted as, as you know, mommy dinosaur was nicknamed big mama.  They looked more closely, at the skeleton of big mama and some of the telltale signs we have, for males, versus females.  And they came to the conclusion that it was probably a male sitting on the clutch of eggs.

Nizar – thank you!  This has been a lot of fun. We look forward to seeing you this weekend!

Want to learn more about the discovery of the spinosaurus? This awe-inspiring production is perfect for the whole family!   Visit Wharton Center for tickets HERE.  

GLAMoms would like to express heartfelt appreciation to the Wharton Center for making this interview come to fruition – we are grateful for this incredible opportunity! 💚

Nizar Ibrahim, National Geographic image

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