STEM Professionals in Schools

Did you know that CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) has a great program called “STEM Professionals in Schools” that facilitates partnerships between schools and industry to bring real STEM people into classrooms? (In case you forgot… STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths).

It’s a national volunteer network that I signed up for last year as I feel strongly about being a visible “Women in STEM” presence, particularly for young people. And the best bit was… I got to talk about fossils all afternoon with a very excitable and curious cohort of kids from Happy Valley Primary School! It was awesome – I took along some fossils for them to touch and pass around, and they threw me some really interesting questions.

I look forward to continuing this partnership and maybe even starting some new ones … if you would like some STEM professionals to visit your school, or you are a STEM professional interested in being involved, you can learn more about the program here: STEM Professionals in Schools. 

Alice & Mary
CHECK IT OUT, YO! I wore my Mary Anning T-shirt today (designed by my talented friend Eleri (https://elerimai.com/)

 

International Day of Women and Girls in Science – Tilly Edinger

Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science – aimed at disabling long-standing gender stereotypes and biases that are steering girls and women away from science. What better way to celebrate than to talk about my favourite woman in palaeo from days gone by, Tilly Edinger. (Yes, I’ve mentioned her before).

Johanna Gabrielle Ottilie “Tilly” Edinger (1897–1967) was born into a prominent Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany, to Anna (Goldschmid) Edinger, a prominent social activist and feminist, and Ludwig Edinger, a comparative neurologist. Tilly received her doctorate in natural philosophy from the University of Frankfurt in 1921 and became the curator of fossil vertebrates at the Senckenberg Museum in 1927.

Increased Nazi power in Germany forced Edinger to eventually flee from Germany in 1939. After finding refuge first in England, she continued her career at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, USA. She was the first woman to be elected President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (1963).

Tilly Edinger almost singlehandedly founded modern palaeoneurology, the study of ‘fossil brains’ and neural evolution,  during the 1920s. Her first research paper (1921) described the natural endocast of the Mesozoic marine reptile Nothosaurus. Dr Tilly Edinger documented all previous examples of natural “endocasts”, examined them systematically and drew inferences about evolution. Prior to Tilly Edinger, scientists only looked at comparative neurology without any input through geological time.

My favourite aspect of my own research is the palaeoneurology of early fish and the first tetrapods, and I’m honoured to continue work is this almost century-old field established by a truly great woman of palaeo. Thank you, Tilly.

#WomenInScienceDay #WomenInSTEM #TillyEdinger #palaeoneurology

 

 

 

 

 

A Story of the Motherfish (a workshop)

Do you want to explore the history of fish evolution while also doing your bit to clean up our oceans? If yes, then A Story of the Motherfish workshops are for you!

I was invited to present insights into fish evolution and adaptation at the December event late last year at this special art and science collaboration, bought to you by Heaps Good Productions & Steve Hayter Design at the Marine Discovery Centre in Henley.

Henley

Participants were invited to bring their own plastic garbage and collected new rubbish from Henley Beach before using these polluting materials to create original pieces of artwork. Talks from myself gave insight into fish evolution and extinctions, and we heard from Georgie, a marine biologist, talking about the threat and other possible consequences of micro-plastics in our oceans today. Steve Hayter then inspired and led everyone to create their own marine-inspired pieces of recycled art.

There’s another workshop coming up on January 18th to be held at Port Adelaide, and then all the artwork created will be shown the artwork at an exhibition! What a better way to reduce plastic in the oceans and put it to a more creative use. The event is free to attend but please register your interest using the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/a-story-of-the-motherfish-workshop-2-tickets-86630398855

 

Cooooool cassowary

Congratulations to Phoebe McInerney from the Flinders University Palaeo Lab who had her honours work published in BMC Evolutionary Biology yesterday!

The full title is “The phylogenetic significance of the morphology of the syrinx, hyoid and larynx, of the southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius (Aves, Palaeognathae)”  and the paper was co-authored by Trevor Worthy, Mike Lee and myself.

We got to use some cool DiceCT and imaging methods to uncover the anatomy of the cassowary. The work found that the syrinx, hyoid and larynx structures (structures in the throat related to vocalisation, respiration and feeding) were more informative for inferring the phylogeny (evolutionary relationships) of this group compared to other typical morphological traits related to flightlessness and gigantism.

I was very pleased to be involved as co-supervisor of Phoebe during her Honours year. Read the original post HERE.

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Introducing Isityumzi

My paper describing a new fossil lungfish was published yesterday in the journal PeerJ. In 2018 I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa to stay and work with Dr Rob Gess, based at Rhodes University in Grahamstown (Makhanda) in the eastern cape of South Africa.

  • Read my original blog post about the trip HERE.

Although not represented by many specimens, this lungfish material is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it represents the ONLY Late Devonian lungfish known from Western Gondwana (South America and Africa), and secondly it hails from the Waterloo Farm Formation. During the Late Devonian when this lungfish lived (~372-359 million years ago), South Africa was situated next to the south pole!

It seems to have inhabited a thriving ecosystem, suggesting that this region was not as cold as the polar regions are today, but it still must have been subject to long periods of winter darkness – very different to the habitats that lungfish live in today!

The new lungfish is called Isityumzi mlomomde, which means “a long-mouthed device for crushing” in the isiXhosa language (one of the official languages of South Africa).

  • Read the full article in PeerJ HERE

I was supported by a Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Early Career Research in 2017 which enabled me to travel to South Africa to complete this research.

Below is an artist’s interpretation of life at Waterloo Farm back in the Devonian (by Maggie Newman). Isityumzi (bottom right) here is eating some Naiadites (bivalves) on the underside of a submerged log whilst an Umzantsia (an early tetrapod) cruises overhead.

Isityumzi-WaterlooFarm

Science in the Pub

Tune in to “Mornings” on ABC Adelaide radio at 9:30 this morning to hear me speak to David Bevan about Science in the Pub (SciPub) this Friday December 6th.

  • Listen to the ABC Adelaide radio interview HERE: Listen from 34min on 3/12/19.

Science in the Pub “brings together critical thinkers of all backgrounds in the shared interest of understanding, criticising, debating, and learning about science”. They hold meetings at the Rob Roy Hotel in Adelaide with a different topic each month.

This month it is one of my all-time favourite themes, “Great Evolutionary Transformations“. I’ll be speaking about how the first land vertebrates (tetrapods) evolved from fish around 400 million years ago, including some exciting new research I am working on right now. Then Dr Myall Tarran will talk about how the flora of Australia adapted to a changing climate, and our final speaker, Paul Curnow, will present on the evolution of whales.

SciPubDecember

This event is free to attend but please register your interest HERE.  Catch you Friday!

Interstate adventures

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been fortunate to be working interstate at UWA and WAM (in Perth) and at MV in Melbourne. For those of you who don’t know the acronyms, that is the University of Western Australia, the Western Australian Museum, and Museum Victoria. It’s a great perk of the job being able to travel to visit the specimens (and people) I need to to conduct my research.

At UWA I was working with Jeremy Shaw who helped me to scan a lungfish braincase on their Xraida CT machine (and it turned out beautifully!), and at the WA Museum, Kate Trinajstic and I photographed the new species of Devonian coelacanth from Gogo that we are currently describing.

In Melbourne I got to play with the laser scanner (so fun!) to scan some tetrapod trackways from Genoa River (Victoria), originally described by Warren & Wakefield in 1972. Unlike tomography which I normally use, the laser scanner captures just the surface morphology (shape) of an object, but this was perfect for the fossilised footprints.  These are among some of the earliest preserved trackways made by a backboned animal (vertebrate) over 350 million years ago!

A big thanks to Isaac from Flinders for helping me learn how to use the scanner, and Tim Ziegler from the Melbourne Museum for arranging access to the specimens.

The State of Science in SA

How healthy is the state of science where you live? What’s been achieved thus far and how will the future of STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering & Maths) play out in your state?

These were some of the questions pondered last night at the special forum “The State of Science in SA“. As the current Programme Secretary for the Royal Society of South Australia (RSSA, a membership-based learned society interested in science, with beginnings that can be traced back to 1834), I organised a forum to discuss just that.

The Royal Society SA in conjunction with the Royal Institution of Australia collaborated in a special joint event for their members with the SA Chief Scientist, Professor Caroline McMillen, giving the keynote address. Professor McMillen presented an overview of SA science and its direction for the future. She covered the three pillars of science (talent, translation & innovation, systems & processes).

A panel discussion with experts representing the Natural Sciences, Defence and Aerospace, Health and Medical Science, and Science Communication followed. Many thanks to our panellists for their valuable insights: 

The State of Science 2019
I was honoured to chair the panel discussion. Thanks to all the speakers and RiAus for help in pulling the night together!
  • Sabine Dittman, President of the Royal Society of South Australia
  • Bradley Abraham, Director of The Royal Institution of Australia
  • Cathy Riach, BAE Systems Australia
  • Caroline McMillen, SA Chief Scientist

 

 

 

79th SVP, Brisbane

Last week Australia welcomed the largest gathering of vertebrate palaeontologists (an “assemblage” of palaeontologists according to Prof. Flint) that Australia has ever seen* at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) meeting. The 79th annual meeting was held for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in Queensland, Australia.

SVP was founded in 1940 and has over 2000 members from across the globe representing all manner of people interested in vertebrate palaeontology. It was a week filled with workshops, talks, poster sessions, social events, field trips and more.

Prof. Mike Archer from UNSW opened the proceedings with a talk entitled “Life, Sex, Songs, Scrat and the Sponge: Australia’s Guinness Book of Evolutionary Records” at the University of Queensland on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we were treated to a special Welcome Reception held at the Queensland Museum. The Awards Banquet dinner was held on Saturday night with a surprise guest appearance from Prof. Flint singing his new song all about Mary Anning.

As always these events are an unmissable opportunity to hear about the hugely varied questions, fossils and approaches that people apply to palaeontology, and also to catch up with colleagues from near and afar. The Flinders Palaeo Lab was represented in force with about 25 past and present members in attendance.

Thanks to the organisers and the host committee for such a truly inspiring and interesting week. Looking forward to 2020 in Cincinnati!

Flinders Palaeo lab at SVP 2019

*As far as I know

BLiSS*Adelaide

Well, what a big week it has been! Last Friday we held the inaugural BLiSS*Adelaide one day symposium for EMCR’s (Early/Mid Career Researcher). I’m proud to say that I was Co-Chair (Head of Operations) as part of the of the Steering Committee that organised this inspiring event. Our committee, lead by BLiSS* founder, Dr fLo Cotel, and BLiSS*Adelaide Chair, Dr Sanam Mustafa, worked hard for 18 months to bring this event to life.

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We kicked off the day with a keynote address from the Chief Scientist for SA, Prof Caroline McMillen, followed by three themed sessions. However, the day ran a little differently to most scientific conferences; the speakers from each session worked together beforehand to weave their presentations into a narrative that explored a general broad theme (Fundamentals in Life, Sustainable Earth, Innovative Futures), rather than present the specifics of their current project. This enabled spirited and inspiring discussions to flow throughout the day.

In the afternoon we invited a panel of experts to discuss “Pathways to Innovation Translation” followed by a networking event. We couldn’t have done it without the generous support of our many sponsors, and it was great to see so many local facilities come down on the day. It’s amazing to learn what exists in your own backyard that you’ve never even heard of!

We really hoped to inspire some interdisciplinary collaborations in the EMCR’s of Adelaide, tomorrow’s leaders in research. So, a generous $3000 collaboration prize is up for grabs for any two researchers who met on the day and can show evidence of their new partnership in 6 months time (in addition to the many other prizes awarded on the day).

I was fascinated by the range of topics covered in the talks and posters last Friday, and I look forward to seeing how BLiSS*Adelaide continues to grow into the future. Thanks to all members of the Steering Committee and everyone who made it down on the day!

BLiSS* out, peeps!

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BLiSS*Adelaide Steering Committee 2019 (Photo: Catherine Leo Photography)