It houses everything from enormous dinosaur relics to micro artifacts.

The new Paleontology Research Laboratory at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology opened its doors Friday for a sneak preview as part of the school's five-year reunion this weekend.

The building has the latest tools and laboratories needed to expand the paleontology program, which now has about 40 students enrolled and offers master's and doctoral degrees.

"Students here will know all of the techniques to collect, prepare and curate fossils, as well as the legal requirements of paleontology," said Sally Shelton, collections and building manger at the new facility. "Our students will have a well-rounded education of the science and be knowledgeable in their field."

The building's features include a geology chemistry lab, the most up-to-date equipment for working with fossils, hands-on teaching areas, collections and an atrium where the public can view people working in the lab.

"Fossils are like library books: You use them again and again, and some fossils can take on a whole new aspect when technology updates," said Jim Martin, professor and executive curator at the Museum of Geology. "With the new equipment we received, it will be much improved for students."

Former paleontology students are excited about the building.

"I think the fact that we have more space to organize our collection like it should be will greatly benefit the students," said Heidi Minkler, who earned a master's degree in paleontology from Mines. "The new techniques and hands-on stuff will build onto the paleontology that we haven't been able to do.

The building also rates as especially environmentally friendly, earning a gold certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design facility by the U.S. Green Building Council. Among the details that ease the building's carbon footprint are insulating panels in the walls that are made of recycled sunflowers.

"They really did a nice job of architectural planning to make it environmentally sound," Martin said.

The new building received $7 million from the state to start construction, and received private donations and some grants. They are, however, still in need of more funding to continue outfitting the labs.

One of the first things that visitors, students and teachers will see when they enter the building are the sculptures of a family of titanothere, an ancient relative of rhinoceroses.

"The sculptures were created by Frederick Blaschke and brought to us from The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago," Shelton said. "They were considering throwing them out because they are not modern, but the whole point is that they are so historic and detailed."

The sculptures were created in 1931. Because the Field Museum was going to get rid of them, Mines received them for only the price it cost to ship the life-size, 9-foot-long statues, Shelton said.

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"These education facilities will allow students to do new analyses and studies that we haven't been able to do in the past due to lack of resources," she said. "We also plan to have events, lectures and collections for the community to see."

Shelton emphasized the importance of the students learning to properly prepare the fossils.

"If you don't do it correctly and document them correctly, then they no longer have scientific value," she said.

The new building is the largest building on the school's campus and provides the users with more space for their research.

"It's a landmark, and we'll be able to offer proper storage and accessibility to the specimens and equipment," Martin said. "We used to have to keep them stored away, and now, we have the opportunity to make them more open."

Contact Ruth Brown at 394-8329 or



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