Office Treasures: Dino Man

Their CVs tell one story, but the things professors surround themselves with tell another
Stanley Alexander in his dental school office
Children on their way to be treated in the pediatric dental clinic often wander in and play with one of Stanley Alexander’s fossils or dinosaur toys. Photo: Alonso Nichols
February 19, 2013

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In this continuing series, we visit the office of Stanley Alexander, D75A, professor and chair of pediatric dentistry at the School of Dental Medicine.

Stanley Alexander was just four when his parents first took him to a place known for its drama and majesty, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Entering the museum’s 4th floor, he stood amazed, gazing at the Tyrannosaurus skeleton. That instant the young Alexander fell in love with dinosaurs—a passion that continues to this day. In fact, he jokes, if it were not for creature comforts, he might have become a field paleontologist.

The museum layout has changed since he was a child. His children were instantly exposed to dinosaurs when arriving in the museum’s grand entrance and greeted by the skeleton of a long-necked Barosaurus rearing up to protect its young from an Allosaurus, a predator with gnashing teeth and sharp claws.

As professor and chair of pediatric dentistry at the School of Dental Medicine, Alexander’s office is a dinosaur fan’s treasure trove. Children on their way to be treated in the pediatric dental clinic often wander in and play with one of his fossils or dinosaur toys. Some he has collected himself; others are gifts from patients, colleagues, family and friends.

The saber-tooth cat jaw on his desk is especially ominous looking, with its 11-inch pair of canines and rows of tiny, sharp teeth. “They attacked mammals,” he says, matter-of-factly, “and ripped them apart.”

On the floor is a plaster footprint of a Dilophosaurus made at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Conn., which has 2,000 dinosaur tracks. Alexander lugged 50 pounds of material into the park to make the cast. There are also dinosaur cartoons, a Tyrannosaurus rex made out of leaded glass, plastic dinosaurs, a tie pin in the shape of an Apatosaurus, fuzzy dice shaped like a triceratops, a wooden dinosaur puzzle, a beanbag dinosaur and more. Even his business card has a picture of an Allosaurus running to a dental appointment.

When Alexander taught  orthodontics at Long Island’s Stony Brook University, where he was a professor for 28 years, he had students take part in a scavenger hunt at the American Museum of Natural History. After all, he says, the skulls, jaws and teeth they had to look for are related to dentistry and orthodontics. He has yet to assign his Massachusetts students to a similar scavenger hunt, as the nearest place with fossils, Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, doesn’t quite live up to his beloved Manhattan institution.

He’s been teaching at Tufts for six years now, and sometimes wonders what would have happened had he taken a different path. During his own dental education at Tufts, he nearly left to pursue a doctorate in paleontology, a field perhaps less practical than what he ended up choosing. What changed his mind? It wasn’t just the lack of a comfortable bed and a hot shower. “My parents talked me out of it,” he says.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at marjorie.howard@tufts.edu.

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