Friday, 4 January 2019

2018 highlights

Another year has gone flying by, and as I've had a really slow blogging year (and for that I apologise) here are some quick highlights of 2018.

This year the first major work thing that happened in 2018 was the annual conference for the Society of Integrative Comparative Biology (SICB) from the 3-7 January. It returned to San Francisco, and marked 5 years since my first and only other SICB conference, coincidentally also held in San Francisco (SF). As always SF is a beautiful city, even with its minor earthquakes the first night and dampened only slightly on the last day when it absolutely poured. I presented work on reconstructed dinosaur models from hatchling to adult. Using them we are able to estimate body mass and how the centre of mass (COM) moves in this species changed as they grew. Of course there was countless great talks and posters, ranging from muscle physiology, to how certain plants distribute seeds, to bird flight, cat tongues and whale swimming.

After a few weeks of work I was off again. This time to Argentina. I won't labour on the full details as I wrote another blog about it. Suffice to say, it was a lot of travelling to get down to Patagonia, but the fossils, and the area, were beautiful.

Completing animal work
Upon returning from Argentina we wrapped up our work on animals after much stress and hassle.
The papers are starting to come out (click here for the crocodile anaesthesia paper, and if you cant view the whole thing and want to read it, message me and I will get you a copy) and it looks like it was all worthwhile, but it is safe to say I will not be doing any more invasive work on animals.

X-ray image of tinamou after a jump
I spent a sizable portion of the first half of the year after completing the animal work actually starting to analyse our data. In particular, the EMG (electromyography) data. EMG is a way of recording the electrical signals associated with muscle activity. Our work combined our experimental work with previously collected but unpublished data across a range of birds and crocodiles. The manuscript is currently in review so keep an eye out for that soon.

Computer models
The second half of my year has been working towards finalising computer models. Initially the models that I presented on at SICB, in preparation for SVP (see below), and lately another dinosaur and soon to be a crocodilian relative. This has involved getting digital copies of the bones (either from CT scans or photogrammetry), putting them into a default pose, and then reconstructing muscles. These models will form parts of work on estimating the mass of the animals, but will also form the basis of a lot of our simulations of locomotion in these species for testing the DAWNDINOS hypotheses.

Testing the model poses in SIMM before all of the muscles are added
I returned to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting for the first time in far too many years (3 years in fact). This year it was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As always I had a great time, with an abundance of incredible science (the student prize talks in particular were amazing), and even managed one of the field trips this year. The first part of the trip was to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science where we went behind the scenes to look at some of the Carboniferous fossils from a nearby quarry (Kinney Brick). The fossils ranged from plants, insects and fish up to a huge fossil shark (see picture below).

Fossil shark (head to top, tail at bottom)
After the theory of the finds in the museum, we went out to the quarry to try our hands. Some were successful finding fish, but the best I could say was that I found some nice fern fossils. The trip was cut a bit short by a heavy snow shower.

Kinney Brick Quarry
I presented an update on our dinosaur ontogeny/growth model and implications for whether the animals were walking on 2 legs or 4. Interestingly there was another talk using a different method that came to the same conclusions. Our work is now in review and will hopefully be able to write something more about it soon!

There was still some outreach this year between everything else. We had two summer schools visit  with GCSE and A level students visiting the college as part of an introduction to the school and the research to decide if veterinary/biological sciences was a career path they were interested in.

Me talking about how we reconstruct fossil species using modern relatives to help ground-truth the estimates
We also visited a local school to do a series of workshops covering a range of activities from looking at everything from species diversity through time (the paleobiology database navigator is a great interactive resource), to looking at 3D prints of bones from living and extinct species, to reconstructing fossils and even having the students try to make their models stand in stable bipedal and quadrupedal poses.

As has been the case for the last few years, I am looking for a permanent job. Lots of applications have gone out, but I have only had one more interview where pleasingly/disappointingly I came second to someone who just had more experience.

What is in store for the year ahead? Well January is looking to be a busy month as we prepare abstracts for ICVM (deadlines February, conference in Prague in July), and SVP (deadline April-ish, conference in Australia in October). The computer models will make up most of that work and hopefully will be some more papers there! Talking of papers, hopefully the dinosaur ontogeny and EMG papers will be accepted for publication, I've also got a massive backlog that have developed (PhD stuff, cat models, student projects) which I hope to work through this year. We also have an exciting outreach event lined up in April where we are taking over the vet college after hours and showing off our science in collaboration with some colleagues from around the UK to the general public. It'll be busy, but hopefully highly productive!

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