- BScHons / 80
Michael Ryan’s fascination with dinosaurs was fostered by the original King Kong movie and the discovery that downtown Ottawa housed real-life monster bones.
“Carleton students have access to a premier collection of vertebrate fossils housed at the Canadian Museum of Nature. It’s a fantastic resource,” says Ryan, who is a research associate there as well as the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, AB.
After studying biology at Carleton—which he describes as the toughest years of his life, but which have served him well—Ryan headed to the University of Calgary for his graduate degrees and the chance to dig for dinosaurs.
In 2001, after four hot summers spent searching for long-horned centrosaurs in southern Alberta, Ryan unearthed a new species of dinosaur. The skull he found is only the second horned dinosaur discovered in Canada since the 1950s. With long brow horns, a long, low bump in place of a nasal horn, and thick hooks that curl from the corners of the creature’s frill, Albertaceratops nesmoi is a primitive member of the Centrosaurinae family. The plant-eating dinosaur lived more than 10 million years earlier than its small-horned relative Triceratops and sheds new light on the evolutionary history of the Ceratopsidae dinosaur family.
Ryan’s digs have taken him to Mongolia, North Africa, South America and China, but it’s Alberta that has made his name. He co-founded the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Research Group to help researchers coordinate their work with each other, government agencies and local residents.
As chief paleontologist for the Phaeton Group, a science and media organization that unites experts in natural science, history and exploration, Ryan runs dinosaur digs for multi-disciplinary groups, training students and amateurs alike. His involvement with Phaeton has also seen him consult for comic books and the film industry—he relocated the lost Star Wars filming locations in Tunisia for Lucasfilm.