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Roselle native touts merits of science -- like getting to dig for dinosaurs
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

Roselle native and paleontologist Matt Bonnan shows off a replica bone of "Aardonyx celestae" Sunday at the Medinah Shrine Center in Roselle. Bonnan was part of a group that discovered a new species of dinosaur bones in South Africa.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Roselle native and paleontologist Matt Bonnan gives a presentation Sunday at the Medinah Shrine Center in Roselle on a dinosaur species he helped discover.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Lead paleontologist Adam Yates and Roselle native/paleontologist Matt Bonnan go over several bones they discovered in South Africa.

 

Photo courtesy of Western Illinois University

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Published: 1/11/2010 12:01 AM

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If Matt Bonnan has his way, his group's recent discovery of a new dinosaur species in South Africa will lead to an increased emphasis on science education.

If not, well, being part of a team that became the first to look upon the aardonyx celestae bones sure is a nice consolation prize.

Bonnan gave a short lecture about the discovery during a banquet in his honor Sunday at the Medinah Shrine Center, in his hometown of Roselle.

As several children looked on, Bonnan spoke about what the new species means to paleontology. After the presentation, the 36-year-old Western Illinois University professor and Lake Park High School alumnus said he enjoys using his work to help children learn and appreciate science.

"Dinosaurs are a great vehicle for this," he said. "We need to understand how science works."

Bonnan was part of a six-person team that traveled to South Africa under a grant from National Geographic. The group discovered the herbivore's bones more than two years ago. But confirmation, and then, finally, publication of the findings, delayed an announcement until November.

The name of the species is a combination of the dinosaur's features and a relative of the dig's lead paleontologist. Aardonyx means "earthclaw," an homage to what the scientists say were the first bones discovered, the 23-foot-long species' large, earth-encrusted claws. Celestae is named after Celeste Yates, the wife of paleontologist Adam Yates.

"It's indescribable," Bonnan said about his first reaction when the group thought they might have found something new. "It was very exciting. Everything you ever wished for and more as a kid was all coming true."

Bonnan has had an interest in dinosaurs since he was five years old. His parents never shunned his interest in dinosaurs. Instead, they encouraged it.

"When your kid has a passion for something, it's important to nurture that passion," said Matt's mother, Threse Bonnan. "We never said, 'No,' or 'Go and find a real job.'"

The reception included several state and local officials such as State Sen. Carole Pankau, State Rep. Franco Coladipietro, and Roselle Village President Gayle Smolinski, a longtime friend of the Bonnan family.

Smolinski said Bonnan's success is a sign of what an involved school district and parents can do when they work together.

"What you're seeing is not only a product of the local schools, but a product of a family who nurtured his dreams," Smolinski said. "This is what happens when all of that works together."

As he talks about his discovery, Bonnan says that his success can be used to promote the sciences. While he's not trying to push people into paleontology, he said the best way for anyone to make decisions in all areas of life must have a strong understanding of the field.

"If you don't understand how things work, it's difficult to make informed decisions," he said. "That's why having a good science education is so important."