McDonald’s Fossil Preparation Lab

Category: Exhibitions

Exhibition Summary

Included with Basic admission

All ages


Included with Basic admission

All ages

About the Exhibit

Watch as stone slabs become prehistoric scientific specimens.

The famous vertebrate fossils in our collection began as massive hunks of rock. Watch preparators ready fossilized specimens for display or research in the McDonald’s Fossil Preparation Laboratory.

After scientists discover fossils out in the field, they carefully package the fossils at the site for their journey back to the Fossil Prep Lab. Then, a team of preparators and volunteers begin extracting the fossils from their stone tombs—a job that can take months (or years, for a large specimen; SUE the T. rex took 12 person-years!).

See the steps in this delicate process firsthand as you watch preparators at work in the Fossil Prep Lab.

Close-up view of a preparator using a pin vise to carefully expose a 52-million-year-old fish.

Once preparators complete their extractions, the finished fossils are examined and compared with related fossils, forming the data for a published study—the final step in the process.

Morgan Anderson

What’s behind the glass inside the lab?

Lab highlights:

  • Tables that support 2,000-pound rocks
  • State-of-the-art microscopes 
  • Miniature versions of jackhammers, circular saws, and sandblasters that shoot baking soda (strong enough to whittle away rock but gentle enough to protect precious fossils)
  • A special exhaust system to remove dust from the air

Miniaturized—but still powerful—tools help preparators whittle away at the raw material surrounding fossils.

Morgan Anderson

A special exhaust system protects preparators in the Fossil Prep Lab by removing rock dust created during fossil preparation.

Morgan Anderson

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