Tuesday, 15 March 2011

...that's funny?

Last week was fun. In a fossil-kind of way...where I had time to sit down and talk with colleagues from across the many departments and faculties at Manchester who make-up the Palaeontology Research Group. From Mike Buckley with his protenacious approach to palaeo, Bill Sellers bounding forward with his locomotion work, Bart van Dongen blasting organic molecules into revealing their identities with his thermal hammer (Pyrolysis unit!) and Roy Wogelius burying his head into surficial processes at the atomic level on squished animals now entombed in rock....precious fossils. I also managed a quick dash to Paul Mummery's x-ray CT emporium, but alas he was off to Oxford with my palaeo-computational colleague Lee Margetts. All these folks and more make-up the unique, some say quirky, group that is the University of Manchester Palaeontology Research Group.

As I have said in prior postings, it is this cross-faculty, multidisciplinary nature of our group that has been the secret to our success. We have all found common ground in long dead beasties...or 'fossils', as some prefer. The most important aspect of this group for me, is what I have learnt from these diverse disciplines, changing the way I conduct, collaborate and manage my research. The fact that I am now happy to talk about the interaction of intense monochromatic synchrotron x-rays with the electronic orbitals of atoms and the associated x-ray induced K-L shell transitions of electrons in fossils,...has simply reinforced how important collaboration is with scientists from outside my discipline. I feel privileged that my knowledge has significantly broadened, but at the same time my understanding has deepened. This is a function of both patient and good colleagues. 

Isaac Asimov, a brilliant (possibly the greatest) science fiction writer and an excellent scientist to-boot, once said, 'The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'

It great working with a group of scientists that at almost every twist and turn in our research we meet curious results that engender a similar Asimovian response. However, the key in our group is having the broad expertise to follow-up with sensible hypotheses that can then be tested and validated, before we go public on those 'funny' moments.

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