RADFORD — After more than a year of work and a pandemic later, the Radford University Museum of the Earth Sciences has installed its latest piece — a student-made sculpture of a velociraptor that will be a permanent fixture in the school’s main science building.
Ling Jie Gu — a senior graphics design major from Blacksburg — created a replica of the Velociraptor mongoliensis, a dinosaur she said lived in Mongolia 71 to 75 million years ago in the latter part of the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era.
While her model is a bit bigger than the animal actually was when it roamed the earth, she said she did a lot of research — including consulting with some experts — to make sure her raptor is an accurate depiction.
“People think of the velociraptors from the movie ‘Jurassic Park,’ but those are much bigger than actual raptors,” she said. “It is also believed that they actually had feathers and are not as reptilian in their appearance.”
Gu said the project was the biggest she has ever undertaken, taking hundreds of hours to complete. The sculpture was made using a steel frame, aluminum foil, polymer clay, feathers and replica golden eagle eyes from Belarus.
She said she pitched the idea to the museum’s director, George Stephenson, after being told by one of her professors that the museum was looking to add a dinosaur sculpture to its collection that features other prehistoric exhibits.
“This was actually perfect. That happened to be my passion and exactly what I want to do as a career,” she said, describing her love for dinosaurs as something that’s been a major part of her life since she was a young child. “They are so cool. They are like dragons, but they are real. It’s really interesting to me to learn about what they would have looked like and how they would have behaved.”
While Stephenson said his mission is to always put students first and to help them succeed any way they can, he didn’t immediately say yes.
“I’ve been around the track a time or two, so I said, ‘Maybe. Do you have any other work you can show me?’ ” he said.
After looking at a sample of Gu’s other work, he said he saw her potential and decided to give her a shot at making the new exhibit. Both Stephenson and Gu said there were many examples of trial and error throughout the process.
“I welded a frame at my house and brought it to her, but she said it wasn’t what she had in mind, so we went back and got it more in line with what she had in mind,” he said.
Stephenson said once Gu got to a certain point in the project, he knew it was going to be special.
“I saw her vision being realized and I said, ‘Whoa. I need to step back and let her run with it.’ It really was amazing watching her vision come to life throughout the process,” he said.
Gu — who also interns at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville — said the project gave her the confidence that a career in sculpting animals, particularly dinosaurs, was a real possibility.
She said being given total creative control felt great.
“It was crazy. I see it as a privilege. I see it as something you fight for and you win people over. It’s not an entitlement,” Gu said. “They establish trust in you and it feels great, at least for me. It feels like for me, I finally know what I’m talking about.”
The display was set to be unveiled last spring before school was canceled following spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the museum is currently closed due to the school’s efforts to social distance, Stephenson said there will be a virtual ceremony at some point this semester, as well as a naming contest for the raptor.
Gu, who graduates in the spring, said having something on permanent display at her future alma mater is something she really cherishes.
“It makes me feel strong in my abilities and confident in my skills and creativity,” she said. “It’s an honor, and I’m so thankful that I was given this opportunity.”