I was honoured to be asked to speak to the Adelaide Planetarium “Supernovas” this week. The “Supernovas” are astronomy students who meet at the planetarium to keep their knowledge of celestial objects up-to-date, with lectures by invited speakers from other disciplines each month.
My talk was entitled “Fish, Fossils and Brains” and I got to speak about my favourite avenue of research, palaeoneurology. Palaeoneurology is the science of fossil brains and neurobiological evolution. The discipline was founded by Tilly Edinger in the 1920s when she described the natural endocast (mould of the internal cavity of the skull) of the Mesozoic marine reptile, Nothosaurus. Prior to Tilly’s work, scientists only compared the brains of living animals without any input from the geological record.
I’m most interested in the changes that occurred across the fish-tetrapod transition. The “lobe-fins” (Sarcopterygians) comprise nearly half of all vertebrate species, and unravelling the major innovations that occurred in the brains of the first tetrapods (the earliest terrestrial vertebrates) is pivotal for understanding our very own neural evolution.
It was especially cool to be treated to a show inside the planetarium after my talk. Many thanks to Paul Curnow (in the photo below) for the invitation and to the “Supernovas” for their interesting and thought-provoking questions.