Boy's Fascination Turns into Man's Passion Paleontology Student's Research Unearths Facts about Dinosaurs

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Burke Daily Herald Staff Writer

Long before "Jurassic Park" made the velociraptor a favorite of kids, Matt Bonnan was fascinated with dinosaurs.

Like most youngsters, he was prone to doodling in his grade school notebooks. But Bonnan's drawings were artful depictions of Tyrannosaurus Rex and triceratops.

While still in the first grade, Bonnan could recite dinosaur names and recall the different places they once lived.

Why the fascination with dinosaurs?

"I think it was, just like any 5-year-old, I liked them because they're so big, like monsters," said Bonnan, 26, a Roselle resident who continues to study paleontology as he works on his doctorate at Northern Illinois University.

Bonnan has won several awards this year for his study of dinosaurs. In January, he will travel to China to help document some prehistoric discoveries there.

The study of dinosaurs is still a new science, only about 150 years old, he said.

And it can be difficult to piece together a skeleton when an individual bone weighs 1,000 pounds and has to be moved with a forklift.

"We actually don't know very much about them because their bones are so big and so heavy. Until recently, we haven't been able to do much with them," Bonnan said.

Bonnan has been doing research on the front limbs of sauropods - giant, long-necked dinosaurs.

Today, computer models can be used to look at dinosaur bones and see how they work together and produce movement.

Until just a few years ago, it was believed these dinosaurs' long necks enabled them to eat from the tops of trees, like giraffes.

But in closer examination of the vertebrae, it's been discovered that the necks did not have much flexibility upwards. The animals couldn't lift their heads much higher than shoulder level, Bonnan said.

It appears by the way the neck bones work together that these dinosaurs would move their heads from side-to-side in a sweeping motion, eating plants at ground level all around them.

"Why eat from the top of a tree when you can just knock it down," Bonnan said of the massive animals who could weigh 40 tons. "They're the size of a building. …