7 Discoveries That Started as School Assignments

Sometimes you teach a young student scientific theory and they run with it …into the history books. Not only do students need to do experiments to show what they've learned, they often think outside the box, and bring enthusiasm to experiments that lead them into unknown territory. And sometimes it's just good observational skills and luck.

Kevin Terris couldn’t have asked for better luck during a field trip he took as a 17-year-old. While scanning the ground for fossils at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, the student spotted a baby dinosaur skull poking out of the dirt. Once the rest of the remains were uncovered, paleontologists concluded they belonged to the smallest and youngest duck-billed Parasaurolophus dinosaur ever recorded. They nicknamed the specimen “Joe.”

Terris and his classmates visited the dig site as part of a paleontology program at their California high school. The field had already been surveyed by experts when the students arrived, which makes the discovery even more impressive. After receiving his high school diploma, Terris went on to study geology in college. Joe, meanwhile, is on display at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California, after providing important insight into the development of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Read about six other times elementary, middle school, and high school students made scientific or engineering breakthroughs at Mental Floss.

(Image credit: Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology)

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