Simulating the Walking Motion of a Dinosaur

Project

Scientists at The University of Manchester used the N8 Research Partnership High Performance Computing (N8 HPC) facility to simulate for the first time ever how one of the world’s largest dinosaurs would have walked.

Partners

Delivery

The team laser scanned a 40 metre-long skeleton of the vast Cretaceous Agentinosaurus dinosaur, then used the N8HPC to simulate its walking and running movements and test its locomotion ability.

Impact

The study provides the first ever ‘virtual’ trackway of the dinosaur and disproves previous suggestions that the animal was inflated in size and could not have walked. The dinosaur weighed 80 tonnes and the simulation shows that it would have reached just over 2 m/s – about 5 mph.

“If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur so that we can reconstruct how it once moved.

To understand how muscles, bones and joints function, we can compare how they are used in different animals. Argentinosaurus is the biggest animal that ever walked on the surface of the earth and understanding how it did this will tell us a lot about the maximum performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system. We need to know more about this to understand how it functions in ourselves.

Similarly, if we want to build better legged robots then we need to know more about the mechanics of legs in a whole range of animals, and nothing has bigger, more powerful legs than Argentinosaurus.”

Dr Bill Sellers, Lead Researcher, The University of Manchester, Faculty of Life Sciences

Success

The analysis has revealed that Argentinosaurus, which weighed more than 80 tonnes, would have walked with a slow steady gait. The research, published in PLOS ONE, is important for understanding more about musculoskeletal systems since all vertebrates, from dinosaurs to humans to fish, all share the same basic muscles, bones and joints.

The University Manchester team now plans to use the same method to recreate the steps of other dinosaurs including Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and T.Rex.

Testimonial

“Access to the N8 HPC system was a critical factor that enabled the team to finish the research in time for the PLOS ONE Special Collection on Sauropods. Timing is important as this collection is likely to be the ‘de facto’ international reference for Sauropods for decades to come. The researchers report that they were very impressed by the system as their software ran twice as fast on N8HPC than HECToR, when using the same number of cores.”

Dr Lee Margetts, The University of Manchester, Research Computing Services