eLife Travel Grant

A big thank you to eLife for awarding me a travel grant! eLife is a fantastic organisation that publishes and supports the life and biomedical sciences. It runs a little differently to many other journals in that it is led by scientists and actively works to support EMCR’s (Early and Mid-career researchers). I published a paper with them in 2018 about the enigmatic stem-osteichthyan, Ligulalepis. My experience working with them was overwhelmingly positive and I’d very much like the opportunity to do so again.

I was one of seven researchers worldwide awarded a travel grant by eLife recently. (You can read about the other recipients here). This grant will help me to attend the upcoming International Symposium on Early and Lower Vertebrates in Qujing, China and present my work on the iconic Devonian tetrapodomorph fish, Gogonasus.

Thank you, eLife! 

Dingo – the neutron beam

Do you know the difference between neutron imaging and X-ray imaging (such as when using CT or synchrotron)? Unlike X-rays, which rely on electrons and attenuate depending on the density of an object, neutron imaging, as its name suggests, relies on neutrons. This means that how an object is imaged is not related to its density (as in X-rays) but instead on the chemical composition of materials (and other neutron attenuation properties).

For example, while X-rays are good at imaging your (hard) bone within your arm (surrounded by soft muscles and skin), a neutron beam would not produce a similarly clear picture.  However, often when trying to image really dense materials (such as metallic objects), X-rays fail to adequately penetrate. In contrast, using neutron imaging, materials that contain a lot of hydrogen (water, for example) will not image well but dense materials, such as many metals, allow the neutrons to pass through them and thus can be imaged.

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Together with my colleagues, Prof. Kate Trinajstic and Prof. John Long, I visited the OPAL reactor run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) last month to image a spectacular specimen of the tetrapodomorph fish, Gogonasus. We believe we have the entire fish contained within one large “Gogo nodule” but wanted to avoid preparing it in the traditional way (using weak acetic acid to dissolve the limestone) in case there was preserved soft tissue inside.

We used the Neutron Imaging instrument, Dingo, and worked with instrument scientist, Dr Joseph Bevitt to scan this 375 million-year-old fossil fish. Having already imaged the same specimen using micro-CT and synchrotron imaging at the ESRF last year, this will provide a great study to compare the different methods.

Old Four Legs (Palaeo in the Pub)

Did you know that when the living coelacanth was discovered off the coast of South Africa in the 1930s it was considered the greatest zoological discovery of the 20th Century? The group of fish known as coelacanths (closely related to lungfish) are known from the fossil record ranging from the Early Devonian (~410 million years ago) up until ~70 million years ago when they suddenly disappear. It was long thought that they had perished alongside the non-avian dinosaurs and all the other animals that went extinct at the end of the Mesozoic era. Hence the discovery of the living “Lazarus taxonLatimeria, identified and described by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer and J.L.B. Smith, caused quite a stir. This is what is known as a “ghost lineage” where we can infer the existence of an organism (we know it must have been alive) but there is no evidence known in the fossil record.

In addition to Prof. Richard Cloutier, this week we have been lucky enough to have ANOTHER coelacanth expert working with us at Flinders University. Dr Hugo Dutel from the University of Bristol has just published an incredible paper in the prestigious journal Nature examining the evolution and development of the brain and braincase of the living coelacanth (Latimeria) through ontogeny (the origin and development of an organism), in this case he has a growth series from foetus to adult. The work is all the more remarkable due to the rare nature of these elusive, deep-sea, ovoviviparous, lobe-finned fishes.

Alice Richard Hugo

Having both Prof. Richard Cloutier and Dr Hugo Dutel in the same city meant that it was a no-brainer to hold a FUPS (Flinders University Palaeontology Society) “Palaeo in the Pub” event. I was the third invited speaker for the special theme “Old Four Legs – the 400-million-year story of the coelacanth.” Richard gave the group an introduction to coelacanths, including the remarkable discovery of Latimeria 80 years ago as well as a brief overview of fossil coelacanths. I then spoke about the discovery and description of a new species of fossil coelacanth from the Gogo Formation that we are working on together, and finally Hugo spoke about his recent work on the living coelacanth.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to have Hugo here with John, Richard and I to talk all about coelacanths (my second favourite group of fishes). We have made good progress in our work on the new coelacanth, so expect an update on that shortly!

Poster

For the Love of Science

I’ll be on stage with Niels this Saturday (May 4th) and some other scientists and their brave partners for the next event put on by The Science Nation.

From the Science Nation website: “In the era of ‘alternative facts’ the need for scientists to share what they learn with others has never been more important. To find out how well actual facts are being shared from the source, the Science Nation is going to experiment on a panel of scientists and their partners to find out just how much information is transmitted. Join the Science Nation in May for some fun and to learn a thing or two as we put love and science to the test.”

This is surely to be a fun and exciting event and you might even learn some cool new science facts. Please come along and support Niels and I this Saturday from 4pm at the Science Exchange, (55 Exchange Place, Adelaide), tickets are just $10 if you book ahead!

BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE.

4LoS

Canberra visit

I’ve just spent two nights in Canberra with my colleagues, John Long and Richard Cloutier. We came to Australian National University (ANU) to scan some spectacular fish fossils Richard brought over from the famous fossil site Miguasha, Canada.

It is always lovely to visit our nation’s capital city as I lived here during the second half of my PhD, some 8 or 9 years ago. It’s a beautiful city and a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and colleagues.

It was a very fishy couple of days as colleagues from The Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of China (IVPP in Beijing) also happened to be in town, as well as my two ANU-based PhD supervisors, Prof. Tim Senden and Dr. Gavin Young.

56582188_435525273918361_8420078724321378304_nDr Alice Clement (Flinders) with Dr Jing Lu (IVPP) and a model of Gogonasus

The CT facilities at ANU are some of the best in the country so I can’t wait to see our scan results. And needless to say, there was much talk about fossil fish, but also a few beers enjoyed!

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Dr Gavin Young (ANU), Prof Richard Cloutier (UQAR), and Prof John Long (Flinders) enjoying some beers at The Fellows Bar at Australian National University. 

Two years, two chapters, two books!

54523513_1128886560615464_1726450924550881280_nI returned to the office after a couple of weeks interstate to several packages on my desk. Two hard cover books were amongst my patiently waiting mail. I wrote two chapters for two different books about two years ago and the final hard copies had finally arrived – it felt like Christmas!

The first was a co-authored chapter with my colleagues John Long and Brian Choo on the evolution of fishes through geological time for the book “Evolution and Development of Fishes“, edited by Zerina Johanson, Charlie Underwood and Martha Richter and published by Cambridge University Press.

The second I have mentioned before: I wrote a chapter about the anatomy, evolution and diversity of the cranial anatomy of the lobe-finned fishes (sarcopterygians). This book examined the heads, jaws and associated muscles from early chordates up to mammals. I’m particularly proud of this one as my first single-authored scientific book chapter.  The full title of the book is “Heads, Jaws and Muscles: Anatomical, Functional, and Developmental Diversity in Chordate Evolution.” It was published by Springer as part of their “Fascinating Life Sciences” series and edited by Janine Ziermann, Paul Diaz Jr, and Rui Diogo.

Super Daughter Day

On Saturday I got to wear my “Super Hero Trainer” badge. I was exploring STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) with girls aged 5-12 for Super Daughter Day in Melbourne.

The event was put on by Work180, a group doing wonderful things to further diversity in the STEM workforce across Australia and the UK, in fields including everything from mining to IT. They tackle the issue from both ends, working with employers and job applicants to better encourage diversity, inclusion and equality.

On the day we explored palaeontology and fossils in general, but also took a closer look at some of my favourite fossils that I work on. This meant the girls (and their parents) were introduced to some fossils, including the spectacular Gogo fish from Western Australia. There were some cool fossils to look at and hand around (the Megalodon tooth was a big hit!), fossils to dig up, and fizzy “bath bomb fossils” to prepare.

Super Daughter Day

I was super pleased to be involved in such a fantastic event, which also had the girls making slime, coding robots and engineering wacky inventions such as a piano made from bananas. Work180 say “Super Daughter Day was created to counteract gender stereotypes which are formed in children as young as 6 years old and to encourage young girls to explore STEM in a fun environment.”

This really resonated with me, as although I had been curious and excited about science as a young girl, during my school years I momentarily lost the spark. I’m not sure exactly why, but it might have been a tired science curriculum or teachers who were lacking the relevant support, resources or background to teach science passionately. Fortunately, in my later high school years I had several exceptional teachers who reignited my interest in science and saw me swing my focus from humanities back to STEM.

I’ve mentioned the idea of the “leaky pipeline” with respect to women in STEM before. One challenge we face is initially attracting girls to STEM, which events such as Super Daughter Day are clearly making great strides to combat. However, in my field of biology in particular, the bigger issue is not attracting, but retaining women. Female students make up the majority of students studying biology at both bachelor and postgraduate level, but after this stage the percentage of females drastically drops, with just 17% of senior academics in Australia (i.e. Professors) who are female. The situation is even worse for those who belong to minority groups or are further marginalised, such as for women of colour.

I applaud Work180 for the incredible work they are doing, and many thanks to Tanya Butenko for her coordination and to my wonderful mate, Amy Miller, for initial introductions. The Melbourne event was completely sold out, but Sydney and Hobart still have their events to come and I’m told there are tickets left! Click HERE to order yours now.

SDD with Rachie

*** See the original Work180 blog piece HERE 

Prof. Richard Cloutier

Bonjour! Canada’s foremost fossil fish fanatic, Prof. Richard Cloutier, from the Université du Québec à Rimouski (Canada), is currently on sabbatical here at Flinders University!

Richard was born in Canada but obtained his PhD from the University of Kansas (USA), before moving onto several postdoc positions throughout England and France, and then later returning to Canada.

I’m a real fan of his research and he’s got a huge body of work investigating the palaeoecology, palaeoenvironment and systematics of Devonian fossil fishes, especially those from the famous Escuminac Formation “Miguasha” in eastern Canada (such as the famous Eusthenopteron). I would really, really love to go there someday.

Richard is here in Australia to work with John Long and I on a number of projects together, the most exciting of which is the description and investigation of a beautiful specimen of the tetrapodomorph fish, Elpistostege (move over Tiktaalik, there’s a new ‘fish-apod’ in town!)

This month, Richard treated the Ecology and Evolution group here at Flinders University to a fantastic talk about his research. You can learn more or watch it here.

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International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Yesterday was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Even though we have come leaps and bounds in recent years, we still have a long way to go to ensure women and girls are not excluded from participating fully in science. According to the UN, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. Gender biases and stereotypes must be combated to enable more young girls and women to participate in science-related fields.

It was for this reason that I was particularly glad to be talking to Work180 yesterday about running a palaeontology activity in their upcoming Super Daughter Day this March in Melbourne. On the day I’ll be exploring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) with girls aged 5-12 and encouraging participation in the huge variety that STEM has to offer.

It’s been so heartening during the last few years to see more visible positive role models for girls in STEM, and even some great new toys such as Lottie the fossil hunter endorsed by  Trowelblazers. (My niece is the lucky recipient of many of these gifts!) Lottie has an age-appropriate body shape and comes with her own field tools and backpack.

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If you want to learn more about some amazing people in STEM, check out Australia’s Science Channel “Women in STEM” page for videos and articles about women doing cool things in fields ranging in everything from space archaeology to robotics. (And if you look closely, you might see a familiar face in the article “How to become a palaeontologist.”

Scope TV

Happy New Year and welcome to 2019!

I hope the heads are not too sore this morning and that you are all ready for another year full of wonderful lungfish-y and palaeo fish news from yours truly. My blog has been online for one year now and I’ve really enjoyed sharing snippets of my work and passion for evolutionary biology. Thanks to all for the positive feedback so far.

If you’re still feeling a little shabby this morning and not ready to race out into the new year just yet, then why not settle down with a cup of tea for an episode of Scope TV? Scope is a “fast, funny and informative children’s science show produced in association with the CSIRO…. created to demystify the world of science and technology, and make it relevant, accessible and above all fascinating to a young audience”.

My research on the stem-osteichthyan (early bony fish) Ligulalepis, was featured in Season 4, Episode 78 (I’m on between 17:56-20:47). You can watch the full episode here:  https://tenplay.com.au/channel-eleven/scope/season-4/episode-78 , or if you are watching from outside Australia or want to skip straight to my segment click HERE

I hope you enjoy it (no, not that fish!)
ScopeTV Alice