Fionn Keeley – palaeobiology and computer games

Fionn Keeley, who graduated from the MSc at the end of 2019, has a dual career, as a palaeontologist and as a games developer. He is reported in a recent profile on the noted web site from his native Ireland, We are Irish.

Fionn explains the links between dinosaurs and fantasy computer games, ‘‘I’m not sure what drew me to extinct animals more than living ones. I suppose I’d always liked mythical creatures too, and I think there’s sort of a fantastical element to prehistoric life, especially when you’re a child. There’s some element of mystery to palaeontology that I really like as well – it sometimes feels like you’re imagining the missing pieces of a jigsaw or trying to work out the colours of a black-and-white photo.’

He released his first game Fadó in October of 2019, just a month after finishing his MSc thesis. Not only that but he’s now working on several projects both on his own and as part of a team. His game Fadó is a retro RPG about Irish myths, a topic and a game genre that he’s always been fond of. Fionn sees the game as a collection of short stories that were in the kind of books that he used to read as a child. ‘I’m hoping to follow it up with further episodes that add to each story and continue to grow its world – since all of the game’s areas are real places, it’s a lot of fun to build on the larger-than-life versions of them established in mythology,’ he says.

In the photo, Fionn proudly shows off his Masters thesis. Who’s a clever boy then?

The Brothers McLeod nominated for BAFTA

The Brothers McLeod, animated film-makers based in Stratford-upon Avon, have just had their short documentary animation ‘Marfa‘ nominated as one of three for this year’s Best British Animation Short at the BAFTA Film Awards. Miles McLeod, one of the ‘brothers’ completed the MSc in Palaeontology in 1999, and since then has worked with his brother Greg.

Myles is a BAFTA Award winning writer. He is an award-winning short filmmaker (two nominations for BAFTA Film Award) and has written dozens of scripts for TV. He has also created shows including co-creating DreamWorks’ Noddy Toyland Detective. In 2011 he won a BAFTA Children’s Award for his work on Quiff and Boot for the BBC.

Read more about the work of the Brothers McLeod, and about Myles’ writing career and ethos.

What possible connection could there be between palaeobiology and animated film?

New latest Cretaceous dinosaur

Simone Conti, who completed the MSc in 2018, has published his Masters thesis on ‘The oldest lambeosaurine dinosaur from Europe: Insights into the arrival of Tsintaosaurini’ in Cretaceous Research for April 2020. He had the chance to work on some beautiful specimens from Spain, and it turns out the new specimens prove the existence of an unusual group of hadrosaurs, the Tsintaosaurini, in Europe, a group otherwise known from eastern Asia. Members of the tsintaosaurine tribe would have dispersed into the Ibero-Armorican Domain not later than the early Maastrichtian, coexisting with endemic dinosaurian groups for some time. Simone is now beginning his PhD in Portugal on the biomechanics of diplodocid sauropods, using engineering techniques, such as Finite Element Analyses and Multi-Body Simulation Systems. It is a joint PhD between the Aerospace Department of Politecnico of Milan (Italy) and the Geology Department of Universidade Nova of Lisbon (Portugal). You can read Simone’s paper here. The image shows the femur of Simone’s Spanish dinosaur.

Emma Schachner TED talk goes global

Emma Schachner, who completed the Bristol MSc a while ago and is now a Professor at Louisiana State University, gave a TED talk at her University last year about her work on respiration in vertebrates and what this tells us about the origin and success of dinosaurs. The talk has now been selected to go live on the international TED talks site, and you can watch it here. The photo shows Emma and one of her greatest fans.


Isla Gladstone highlights extinction emergency

Bristol City Museum has shrouded some of its exhibits to highlight the impending risk of their extinction. This striking exhibit has been featured in an article in The Guardian, and is attracting widespread attention. Isla graduated from the Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology some years ago, and has since worked in a number of museum jobs. She is currently Curator of Natural History at the Museum.

Isla said, “The extinction crisis is causing a lot of anxiety among people. We have a unique role to play with our animal stories and histories, and in creating a space for conversation and doing something positive to raise awareness. We want to help people imagine a world without these incredible creatures.”

She is shown with a stuffed Bengal tiger, once represented by 100,000 individuals, now only 4000. “Some animals on the list are surprising, like the giraffe and chimp,” she says. “Familiarity is part of the problem. Extinctions can be silent, especially as many iconic animals seem a common part of our everyday culture.”

Emma Bernard digs Jurassic fish

Emma Bernard, Curator of Fossil Fish at the Natural History Museum, has just taken part in the ‘Mission Jurassic’ excavations in Wyoming. These are a partnership between The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (project lead), with the Natural History Museum, the University of Manchester and Naturalis (Leiden).

A key part of the programme was to document the geology and all fossils, not just the dinosaurs, and Emma was there to keep an eye on this wider range of finds. Emma completed the MSc in Palaeobiology in Bristol in 2007, and did a variety of jobs before getting the Curator position.

As she reports on her NHM web page, “I participate and lead in a number of outreach events every year, such as the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. I regularly take part in collection enhancing fieldwork all around the world; America, Morocco, France and have lead field teams to various localities within the UK.” Here she is leaving the BBC (yet again) after a live interview on Radio 5 about the recent dig.

Joe Bonsor on Mission Jurassic

In a recent excavation in the Morrison Formation in Wyoming, former Bristol MSc students, Joe Bonsor has been a key participant. This is the ‘Mission Jurassic’ enterprise between the Natural History Museum and the Children’s Science Museum in Indianapolis. Joe completed the MSc in 2010, and is currently completing a PhD on ‘The taxonomy and phylogeny of the Wealden iguanodontian dinosaurs’ jointly between University of Bath and the Natural History Museum. With his PhD supervisor, Dr Susie Maidment, Joe has had the adventure of his life, excavating classic dinosaurs and speaking to the press. Joe loved every minute of it and all the recent press interest ‘makes him want to go back!’

Read more on the special BBC web page.

Adam Smith reaches another level in curatorial career

Congratulations to Adam Smith, curator of natural sciences, Nottingham City Council, who completed the MSc in Palaeobiology in 2003, and a PhD on plesiosaurs, in Dublin, in 2007. Adam has just been awarded a share of a grant of £200,000 awarded to seven curators in various museums around the country. His proposal is to research and display the museum’s nationally significant herbarium collection.

The Headley Fellowships with Art Fund is designed to help curators take time away from their day-to-day responsibilities to carry out in-depth research into their museum’s collection. The funding is linked to the ongoing decline in public spending on museums and galleries in England, which has fallen 13% in real terms over the past decade.

During his time in Nottingham, Adam has staged several highly successful exhibitions, including a massive exhibition in 2017 and 2018 on Chinese dinosaurs.

More details of the award are here.

Here is Adam, hiding down at bottom left (green trousers), behind Chris Packham, who opened the dinosaur exhibition in 2017.