I am absolutely delighted that the University of Birmingham’s Graduate School has chosen me for the Award for Excellent in Doctoral Research Supervision 2016 for the College of Life & Environmental Sciences. It is particularly special because it was awarded on the basis of a nomination from my past and current PhD students. I’d like to thank them for the nomination – I am extremely lucky to work with such an inspiring group of young researchers.
It’s been fun the last few weeks to host visits from a couple of our friends and collaborators. Christine Böhmer, who I know from when she was a PhD student and me a postdoc in Munich, visited three weeks ago to give a talk and discuss a possible fellowship application for her to join our group. She gave a very interesting presentation on her exciting work on tracing Hox gene evolution in fossil archosaurs, and we also took the opportunity to take her out to a local pub.
Also visiting has been Martin Ezcurra, former PhD student and current Honorary Research Fellow in our group. Martin is now based in Buenos Aires, but visited to collaborate with us on some projects on Triassic biogeography, Early Jurassic theropods, and early archosauromorph macroevolution. He also taught a short course while he was here on the phylogenetic software TNT, and took the opportunity to visit and work in museum collections in London, Cardiff and Warwick. He’s now on his way back to Argentina, but hopefully it won’t be long before he visits again!
A quick post to congratulate all undergraduate students in Earth Sciences at the University of Birmingham who received their final degree classifications today. Several students who worked within our research team were among them. Sam Tutin (BSc Palaeobiology & Palaeoenvironments) completed his Major Project with me on plesiosaur fossil record completeness. Josh Hedge (MSci Geology) worked on his Advanced Project with Ivan Sansom and myself on Carboniferous ichnology from Alveley in Shropshire, including freshwater invertebrate tracks and vertebrate resting traces. Emily Barratt (MSci Palaeobiology & Palaeoenvironments) completed her Advanced Project with me on fossil record completeness of early archosauromorph reptiles. All three did well in their projects and final classifications, and we wish all them all the best for the future!
Pedro has had a busy couple of weeks. Last week he attended the II Iberian Symposium on Geometric Morphometrics in Madrid, presenting his research using morphometrics to assess the role of heterochrony in Cretaceous crocodyliform evolution.
Last Friday we reopened the Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham, following an 18 month closure as part of a £2.5 million redevelopment and expansion of the exhibitions and Museum facilities. The Lapworth Museum dates back to the late 19th century, and its collection includes more than 250,000 fossils, rocks, minerals and other archival material and objects, many of national or international significance. Prior to the redevelopment the Museum was primarily used by specialists, and had limited facilities for family and school visitors; our aim has been to expand the reach of the Museum and engage with a much greater audience of the public, schools and families across the Midlands. Our redevelopment has included entirely new galleries, displays and interpretation covering the Evolution of Life, Active Earth, and Mineral Wealth, as well as a new dedicated state-of-the-art Education Room (and a new Learning and Community Development Officer), temporary exhibition space, and improved visitor facilities (cafe, shop, toilets etc.). We’ve tried hard to develop an exciting and engaging modern space, while retaining as much of the Edwardian character of the original Museum as possible. The new Museum is free to visit and open seven days a week, so come see us!
The reopening is the end of a six year project. Personally, I’ve been involved ever since I arrived in Birmingham nearly three years ago, and took on the role of Academic Keeper of the Museum (essentially a bridge between the Museum and research and teaching activity within the University). I’ve been part of a fantastic project team, and involved in many aspects of the process, including leading the development of displays and writing the majority of the text for the Evolution of Life gallery, working closely with our external designers and colleagues. It’s been a hugely exciting project to be involved in, as well as being an enormous amount of work, and we’re all very excited and happy with the result.
PhD student Pedro Godoy is the lead author (together with Mario Bronzati) of a new paper in PeerJ on the postcranial anatomy of Pissarrachampsa sera, a baurusuchid crocodyliform from the Late Cretaceous of Brazil. Other authors on the paper include group member Julio Marsola, and group alumnus Felipe Montefeltro. When it was originally described in 2011, Pissarachampsa was known only from cranial elements. In this new paper, Pedro and colleagues describe additional postcranial remains that they assign to this species, which provide important information on its lifestyle, supporting its identification as a terrestrial predator. In addition, they conducted exploratory analyses that tested the influence of postcranial morphology on the phylogeny of crocodyliforms. The results of these analyses indicate that the postcranium can be very informative in resolving crocodyliform relationships.
Last week, members of our research group travelled to Oxford to attend the Progressive Palaeontology conference. Opening the event were two workshops, one of which was led by Roger Close on palaeontological and phylogenetic methods in R. Afterwards an ice breaker was held in the spectacular surrounds of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
The following day, Pedro Godoy was the first of the Birmingham PhD students to take to the stage to present his current work on the ecological diversity of crocodylomorphs. Next up was Dan Cashmore taking on the challenge of talking about his research on the completeness of the fossil record in the lightning time of only four minutes. During the poster session, Juan Benito Moreno presented and took questions on his poster illustrating his work on a new basal rhynchocephalian from the Late Triassic of Wales. The final session of the day saw Andy Jones talk about his PhD work on phytosaur form and phylogeny, and, during the penultimate lightning talk of the event, Emma Dunne described her work on early tetrapod biodiversity.
(Click on each speaker’s name to view a Palaeo Cast recording on YouTube)
The annual conference dinner was held at the magnificent Exeter College, alma mater of that famous Brummie J.R.R. Tolkien, where it was announced that a number of our group had won prizes for their performances:
Best talk (winner): Andy Jones
Best lightning talk (runner up): Emma Dunne
Best poster (runner up): Juan Benito Moreno
Overall, Birmingham managed to scoop three out of the six prizes awarded!
After all the delegates were done dining, David Button took on his infamous role as auctioneer for the annual auction, which proved to be a huge success in raising travel grant funds for next year’s meeting. Huge congratulations to all at Oxford for a fabulous conference, we’re already looking forward to next year wherever it may be!