"A T. Rex Named Sue" exhibit opens at UTPA Visitors Center
Posted: 09/22/2008
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Rio Grande Valley residents have been seeing glimpses of this large creature for weeks on billboards and in media ads. She has finally taken up her temporary residence as one of the newest members of The University of Texas-Pan American community. She is Sue, the most complete and best preserved specimen of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered.

A full-sized cast of her skeleton is the centerpiece of the exhibition "A T. Rex Named Sue," which opened to the public today, Sept. 22, at the UTPA Visitors Center and will run through Jan. 4, 2009. The exhibition, created by The Field Museum in Chicago and made possible through the generosity of McDonald's Corporation, is free and open to the public during the exhibition's Visitors Center hours - 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, and 1-4 p.m. Sundays.

Two early visitors to the new UTPA Visitors Center exhibit "A T. Rex Named Sue," take a look up at the towering cast of the most complete and best specimen of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever found. The exhibit will be at the UTPA Visitors Center until Jan. 4, 2009.
"We are just really thrilled to be able to bring this historical, museum quality exhibit to the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas," said UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas. "We want every child to have the opportunity to discover dinosaurs but also to discover a university ... we want our young students to walk in here and realize they want to be scientists, that they want to get a college education."

Visitors to the bilingual exhibition, which is full of touchable models, interactive displays and videos, will not only experience the dramatic look of Sue's upright skeleton but also be able to explore a T. rex's use of senses to find food and how she manipulated her jaw muscles, tail and small forelimb to eat, move and stay upright. A separate display of the cast of Sue's large skull rotates and growls and provides a chance to handle models of her intimidating teeth.

As one of the first elementary school students to view the exhibit, Melanie Luna, a fifth grade student at Cavasos Elementary School in Edinburg, declared Sue " big" and "cool" and said it made her want to learn more about dinosaurs.

"I liked seeing the huge bones and its sharp teeth," said Luna, who decided Sue used them to eat other dinosaurs.

Joining UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas (left) to welcome the Sue exhibit to the University campus were from left to right Cynthia Graybill, McDonald's Rio Grande Valley owner operator; Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Division of Enrollment and Student Services, which oversees the Visitors Center; Joe Reyna, McDonald's area supervisor; Fred del Barrio, McDonald's Rio Grande Valley owner/operator and president of the McDonald's RGV Co-op; and Jeff Schmatz, account supervisor, McDonald's RGV Co-op.
Abigail Weller, a seventh grader at Cathey Middle School in McAllen, said she was going to bring her friends back to view Sue.

"It's cool to see it was actually real because you can read about it in school books but it is different when you see it. I didn't expect it to be so scary and kind of frightening," Weller said.

Biology professor Dr. Scott Gunn, who is a member of the UTPA Exhibits Committee made up of faculty and staff who help select and coordinate exhibits displayed in the Visitors Center, said he expects this exhibit will be the best attended exhibit ever in the Visitors Center.

"It appeals to all ages and will bring a tremendous number of people here to the University to see the quality of the opportunities we have here. And this is just an absolutely awesome spectacle to see an animal of this size that actually walked the earth and to think about what has changed since then," he said.

The bones of Sue, named after her discoverer Sue Hendrickson, were first found in South Dakota during a 1990 commercial fossil hunting trip. After a lengthy determination of the fossil's ownership, the specimen was purchased at an auction by the museum in 1997 for $8.4 million - the largest sum ever paid for a fossil.

Following the two years it took to clean and repair Sue's more than 250 bones and teeth, the McDonald's Corporation supported the creation of the fully-articulated casts of two traveling Sues. Bringing Sue to the Valley is thanks to the Rio Grande Valley McDonald's owner operators who donated $75,000 toward the exhibition at UTPA said Cárdenas.

"A great and heartfelt thank you to our friends from McDonald's who have partnered with us to bring Sue to South Texas but more importantly who are partners with us on a number of initiatives that are designed to take the message to every child in the Rio Grande Valley that college is for them and to bring us closer to fulfilling the dream that every home in the Rio Grande Valley will have a college degree hanging on the wall," Cárdenas said.

The cast of Sue's five-foot long skull is mounted separately and provides an up close look at her intimidating teeth. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, includes many hands-on, interactive modules that will educate and entertain visitors of all ages.

Fred Del Barrio, a McDonald's owner/operator and president of the McDonald's Rio Grande Valley Co-op, said their assistance is just the latest of their efforts to support education at all levels in the Valley.

"We are excited about having Sue in the Valley as her story is one that all ages will find interesting and stimulating. The McDonald's in the Valley are owned by six different owner/operators and each of us is a firm believer that the education of our children is the future of the Valley," he said.

Dr. Martha Cantu, director of UTPA's GEAR UP which also provided support for the exhibit, said she's pleased that not only GEAR UP students but the parents of the 9,000 students the program serves as well as the science teachers in its 22 schools will have an opportunity to tour the exhibit. She said teachers are provided supplemental education materials related to the exhibit that are aligned to the TEKS objectives.

"The teachers will be able to have lessons in class about Sue and they can tie the lessons back to the tour," she said.

Tours of the exhibit can be made on line by going to the UTPA Web site at to fill out a tour request at the Sue exhibit button located there. Individuals or small non-school groups who want to tour the exhibit are recommended to call 956/292-7338 available from 8 a.m.-noon to check on wait times.

During UTPA's annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week, which began Sept. 21, the exhibition will featured on Educator and Student Leadership Days and will also be open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on HESTEC Community Day, Saturday, Sept. 27.

Additionally, starting Monday, Sept. 29, the dino mania Sue inspires will extend to UTPA's newly digitally-enhanced H-E-B Planetarium, which will feature a new full-dome video titled "The Dinosaur Prophecy."

A thrilling array of creatures leap across the planetarium's dome in 3-D during this 30-minute video that involves the viewer in the investigation of how, when and why dinosaurs disappeared from Earth. Group tour presentations will be available on weekdays and showings on Saturdays will begin on Oct. 4 at the top of each hour from noon to 8 p.m. A complete schedule of planetarium shows can be found at You may also e-mail planetarium@utpa.eduor call 956/316-7088.

For other information on the exhibit or to arrange special accommodations, call 956/381-2999.