News

Sam Coatham publishes his MSc project

An artist's impression of Titanichthys, a giant armoured fish that roamed the prehistoric oceans 380 million years agoCongratulations to Sam Coatham who has published his MSc research on Titanichthys – a giant armoured fish that lived in the seas of the late Devonian. Sam’s work has shown that Titanichthys fed in a similar manner to modern day basking sharks. The research has attracted lots of media attention. You can read a summary here and the original paper here. Image by Mark Witton.

 

 

 

 

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?

Congratulations to all our graduates!

 

 

Well done to all the MSc students who graduated this week! A special mention goes to Oliver Demuth, who won both the David Dineley Prize for the best MSc thesis in the class and also the Geologists Association Curry Prize for an outstanding MSc thesis in an Earth Science subject.  Oliver is pictured here receiving the David  Dineley Prize from Head of School Rich Pancost.

 

 

 

Two new micropalaeontology papers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to Sophie Kendall (left) and Chloe Todd (right) who have both published their MSc research.

Chloe’s project looked at the effect of the late Pliocene environment, when carbon dioxide levels were similar to today, on the size and weight of planktonic foraminifera. Her paper is published in Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology and you can read it here. Chloe is now doing a PhD in Southampton.

Sophie used CT data to study morphological plasticity during the development of the first planktonic foraminifera. Her study is published in the Journal of Micropalaeontology and is available here. Some of her reconstructions are below.

 

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.

Former student Amy Ball publishes her first book

Congratulations to MSc graduate Amy Ball, who has just published her first book, The Rocking Book of Rocks. The book written with Florence Bullough and illustrated by Anna Alanka is published by Wide-Eyed Editions and is aimed at children aged 8-11. You can find out more about the book here. Amy currently works as the Education Officer for the Geological Society of London.

MSc students volunteer at Bristol City Museum

Msc students regularly volunteer for projects at Bristol City Museum, which is next door to the School. This year the students are working to curate and catalogue the historic collections of E.T. Higgins – mostly Rhaetic material from the classic local site of Aust Cliff. The students are gaining invaluable curation skills from the Curator of Geology (and former MSc student) Debs Hutchinson.

MSc students at Bristol City Museum with curator Debs Hutchinson (right). Photo: Bristol City Museum.

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.

 

New article about MSc graduate Emma Schachner

Here’s one of our great Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology graduates Emma Schachner, surveying her very successful career so far. As she says, The Bristol MSc ‘was like boot camp for paleontology. They throw you in the deep end and see if you can sink or swim. I loved it, and then came back to the US for my PhD.’ She is now a Professor at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, where she uses her palaeontological skills, combined with remarkable artistic skills, and a love of vertebrate anatomy to study questions about the evolution of physiology and the origin of the dinosaurs.

http://www.tedxlsu.com/the-scoop/how-evolutionary-biologist-emma-schachner-is-helping-explain-the-rise-of-the-dinosaurs?fbclid=IwAR0jjqlUTgqyeAt0StjEHBzSB2-L4VeCw_fMEfEJRrtceT2dmfYNVlfxJ1Y

Antonio Ballell Mayoral wins Geologists’ Association MSc Prize

Congratulations to Antonio Ballell Mayoral who has won the Geologist’s Association’s Curry MSc Prize. This award is for the best MSc thesis in the country on an Earth Science topic and has a £1000 prize. Antonio won for his thesis on morphofunctional trends in Crocodylomorpha. Antonio is the third Bristol Palaeobiology student to win this prize after Nick Crumpton in 2010 and Karina Vanadzina in 2017.