Myhrvold and Currie Honored by the Smithsonian Institution and Computerworld for Use of Computer Simulations to Reveal Dinosaurs’ Secrets

Today, the Computerworld Smithsonian Awards Program, which recognizes individuals who have discovered outstanding uses for information technology, will present its Tenth Annual Innovation Collection to the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, chief technology officer for Microsoft, and Dr. Philip Currie, paleontologist and leading dinosaur expert, are among 52 finalists in 10 categories. All finalists will be honored in a ceremony at the historic National Building Museum in Washington D.C.

The Myhrvold and Currie paper, “Supersonic Sauropods: Tail Dynamics in the Diplodocids,” was nominated by Kenneth Katzif, national director of systems development and integration practice for Ernst & Young LLP, and was selected as one of five finalists in the Science category from an original pool of 14 nominations.

In their paper, Myhrvold and Currie describe how they created computer simulations to test their assumptions about sauropod dinosaur tails. The resulting data challenges some existing beliefs about why the sauropods had whiplike tails.

Although their findings agreed that the tips of sauropods’ tails could be used like a bull whip — a premise that has fascinated scientists for many years – Myhrvold and Currie also found something much more interesting. Using computer simulations, they discovered that sauropods could flick their tails at speeds of more than 750 miles per hour, faster than the speed of sound. Such rapid movement would have created sonic booms that likely would have been used for communication and mating. Although legendary former test pilot Chuck Yeager has long been credited as the first living being ever to break the sound barrier, it is fascinating to think that dinosaurs may have been doing so routinely 150 million years sooner.

In addition to being finalists for the IT Innovation Awards, Myhrvold and Currie are also eligible for the Computerworld Smithsonian Leadership Awards. These awards are presented annually to five individuals to recognize them for their leadership, vision and commitment in spearheading revolutionary change.

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