Fossil finding is appealing for Qualicum Beach searchers

Dr. Gar Rothwell shows one of the fossils from this year’s collection. - Neil Horner
Dr. Gar Rothwell shows one of the fossils from this year’s collection.
— image credit: Neil Horner

When Graham Beard finds the right rock at one of the secret locations near Campbell River, he’ll see a swarm of literally hundreds different fossils and fossil fragments.

Finding the fossil though is only the first step of a long and sometimes laborious process.

Identifying them and figuring out what they looked like in life is the next step, one made far easier thanks to advances in medical technology.

Once a piece of rock is identified as being of interest, thin slabs are cut and then peeled.

This peeling process involves etching the calcium carbonate rock with hydrochloric acid to make the fossils stand out.

Then a layer of cellulose acetate is applied and dissolved with acetone. When the acetone evaporates and the acetate dries, it can be peeled off the rock, taking with it a very thin section of the fossil with it. This section, about 25 microns thick, is then able to be viewed through a microscope.

In a particularly interesting specimen, as many as 800 of these peels may be made, with each peel being fed into a special computer program, which puts them all together to form a three-dimensional image of the fossil.

This process, Stockey noted, used to be done by creating models out of wax, cardboard or styrofoam and then painstakingly gluing the many layers together. However, thanks to advances in medical resonance imaging (MRI) technology, they no longer have to do this.

The result is a 3-D image that can be rotated on the computer screen, allowing scientists to get an accurate idea of what the specimen looked like in life.

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