Flight plan: A Chatham professor figures out the pterosaurs

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Dr. Michael Habib has been on the faculty of Chatham University's biology department only since September, but he's already bringing a bit of dinosaur-sized fame to his school.

Research that Mr. Habib did on pterosaurs, the flying reptiles that ruled the skies from 230 million to 65 million years ago, has been named by Discover magazine as one of the top 100 science stories of 2009.

Like many scientists, Mr. Habib has spent years pondering the mystery of pterosaurs and how they were able to take flight in regions that lacked an abundance of cliffs from which to launch. Pterosaurs weighed as much as 500 pounds and had a 34-foot wingspan. Mr. Habib didn't buy the previous theory that they ran long distances while flapping their bat-like wings to build launch velocity.

After comparing modern birds and 12 species of pterosaur fossils, the Chatham biology professor argued that the creature used all four of its limbs to push itself off the ground without a need for a running start.

Until someone can come up with a better theory, Michael Habib's take on pterosaurs will probably become the new orthodoxy. It is an elegant answer to a mystery that has bedeviled flocks of scientists. Chatham University does well to have such an innovative thinker on its faculty.


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