Main Navigation

NHMU launches Triceratops Traits for middle schoolers

The Research Quest program is designed to improve students’ critical thinking skills using real-world science investigations with researchers.

The Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) is launching a  new educational investigation as part of Research Quest, its award-winning and free online education program.

In Triceratops Traits, the new investigation, students work alongside paleontologists to solve an evolutionary mystery by analyzing and interpreting data from the fossil record. This data, documenting the diversity, evolution and extinction of life forms, are interpreted under the premise that natural laws have operated the same throughout the history of life on Earth to fit 7th-grade learning standards in Utah and 6th-8th grades around the U.S.

“We’re excited to be expanding our library of Research Quest investigations. The program is a powerful tool for middle school science teachers to expand the critical thinking skills of their students,” said Dr. Jason Cryan, executive director of NHMU.

About Research Quest

Led by NHMU’s digital learning and curriculum coordinator Merinda Davis, the Research Quest team worked with educators who provided essential input throughout the development of the new investigation.

Research Quest includes 10 different investigations that can be used alone or in conjunction with one another to support student learning standards. These investigations are designed by professional educators and research scientists to advance students’ critical thinking skills. The students are paired with NHMU collections and research scientists to examine questions akin to what they study. Through these investigations, students examine real-world questions, analyze actual palaeontological evidence and develop their own theories. When compared with traditional education resources, these investigations provide a significantly more authentic and interactive learning experience.

“It is exciting to share some of the world-renowned research going on at the University of Utah. Students will be using the same tools used by professional scientists to evaluate the relationships of famous dinosaurs like Triceratops. The multiple modules in this investigation will be both interesting and engaging for students and teachers alike as they learn about the life that inhabited the West millions of years ago,” said Dr. Mark Loewen, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Utah.

First envisioned in 2014 by a coalition of teachers, learning specialists and scientific and digital experts, and made possible with the invaluable support of generous funders, the first Research Quest investigations debuted in Utah schools in January 2016. Since then, 1,000-plus teachers and their students have logged on more than 250,000 times and have used the resource in their classrooms to help meet a range of education standards.

Research Quest is made possible by generous support from the Joseph and Evelyn Rosenblatt Charitable Fund and the IJ and Jeanné Wagner Foundation. Their ongoing support, combined with a generous grant from the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership program, funding from the Utah State Legislature’s Informal Science Education Enhancement program and a grant from the National Science Foundation, has allowed Research Quest to become a valued teaching resource for teachers and students throughout Utah and in states nationwide.

To learn more and sign up for Research Quest, visit

About the Natural History Museum of Utah

The Natural History Museum of Utah, part of the University of Utah, is one of the leading scientific research and cultural institutions in the country. Established in 1963, the museum’s collections contain over 1.6 million objects and offer innovative exhibitions and educational programs to thousands of residents and visitors each year, including traveling and permanent exhibits, special events and other programs. With an expected attendance of 300,000 visitors a year, the museum also offers a variety of outreach programs to communities and schools throughout Utah, reaching every school district in the state annually. The museum has an active science program with more than 30 scientists and 10 field exhibitions each year.