Saturday, 1 May 2010
A year chasing particles?
Welcome to the wonderful world of long dead things and how they still have a major impact on many folks lives, not least my own. I have been a palaeontologist for long enough to know better, but persist in digging, preparing, analysing and trying to make sense of the disjointed sentences that the fossil record provides us. My Name is Phil Manning, I work as a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) at the University of Manchester and as a Research Fellow in The Manchester Museum. I also have the vast pleasure of working with Professor Peter Dodson at the University of Pennsylvania as a Visiting Scholar. My work at Manchester and Penn is augmented with several visits a year to Stanford University (SSRL and SLAC), where I work with a team of scientists, including Dr Roy Wogelius and Dr Uwe Bergman...chaps so clever, you can cut yourself on them. The odd trip to Patagonia, China, Canada, Germany, Spain...and many other destinations keep the fossil fuel supplied for my science.
Over the next few months you will join me on my
travels, as I have decided to use my sabbatical to expose myself to the fun world of particle physics and geochemistry. Why? I hear you all ask...to be honest, I am a little nervous answering. I realize that this is indeed a quantum leap for any palaeontologist to take, but it is one I am willing to make, as there are many secrets that this new research world has to offer to my own subject. The last five years has already been a baptism of fire for me, bouncing between biology, physics, engineering, computational robotics, FTIR, MALDI-TOF... to name but a few subjects (some sounding more like dinner cocktails!) that I have tried getting to grips with.... I'm quite dizzy!
This past year has also been a tad frantic. I have just done filming a new series for the National Geographic Channel ('Jurassic CSI') and am currently playing catch-up with my own research group...who are as productive as ever. The trick is....I have to start being as productive as they are! A year on the road chasing new fossil finds and playing with spanking-new techniques in the field has been great fun, but I am now faced with a pile of data that needs dissecting, analysing and interpreting. Bugger! Much has already been done, thanks to the many folks who consist the Manchester Palaeontology Research Group. However, as always there is still much to do. As the year progresses, you will see many publications from our Manchester group....you can read about the pain we go through getting to publication in these pages....the slings and arrows of peer review are painful, but necessary.
If anything, by the end of 2010, I hope you will agree with me that palaeontology is far from a 19th Century science. Never let it be said that palaeontology is about 'dusty old fossils', as I by studying these ancient remain with 21st Century science, we discover there's a bit life in the old bones yet. Its not so much what sort of fossil you have, but what you do with it! The beautiful hindsight that the fossil record provides from the death, war, famine and pestilence of lost worlds is there for the taking....if we can just tease it from the grip of the sands of time!
........as for the space shuttles, all will become clear as mud over the ensuing blog!