Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Synchrotron time ahoy!

The Manchester Palaeontology Research Group has been awarded two more years of beam-time to work at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Light-source (SSRL). The whole group is over the moon about this wonderful opportunity. We can now build upon our earlier successes, which include working on the taphonomy of Archaeopteryx (above) and also mapping eumelanin pigment patternation in Confuciusornis (below).
The beam-allocation will provide the Manchester/SSRL team with the time to work on enhancing both data-capture techniques, whilst also updating of the experimental station... so we can enhance our x-ray vision on the innermost elemental secrets of both extant and extinct beasties.
Like so many University of Manchester research projects, the collaboration with SSRL is critical to expanding our knowledge of both past and present life on Earth, whilst working at the interface of several disciplines. The collaboration between beam-line physicists (Dr Uwe Bergmann, above right), PhD researchers (Holly Barden, above centre) and computational biologists (Dr Bill Sellers, above left), makes such research possible. However, it has been the geochemistry of the fossils that have relayed so much information from our synchrotron-based studies and that is the realm of Dr Roy Wogelius (below)...
For me, as a palaeontologist, its just damn exciting working in a field that shows so much promise, in terms of expanding our knowledge. This new field not only has the potential to yield insight to the exceptional preservation of past life, but also provide crucial information and clues as to the very biological pathways that once synthesized the compounds that remain hidden within the elemental inventories of such beautiful fossils. Its a splendid time to be a palaeontologist.

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