Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Palimpsests, Palaeontology and Particle Physics!

February marks the start of my teaching at the University of Manchester. Until the summer, I will be convincing my 2nd year undergraduate students that Vertebrate Palaeontology & Evolution is of the most utmost importance to them...in the case of my 3rd years, that Applied Techniques in Palaeontology is of equal import. My 1st year tutor group is getting to grips with peer-reviewed papers and unraveling hypothesis-driven science. This is my favourite time of year, as I thoroughly enjoy the eager minds, so open to new knowledge and ideas, but I have to say this is my busiest time of year.

Busy has a habit of becoming even busier! At the end of last year I submitted a proposal, on behalf of Palaeontology Research Group, to the Royal Society for their Summer Exhibition. My proposal was quite simple....to reconstruct a synchrotron in the hallowed halls of the said Society. They said said yes to our proposal, 'Palimpsests, Palaeontology and Particle Physics'.

My team and I have started to set about explaining how chemistry can define the origins, synthesis, function and subsequent alterations/modifications of both inorganic and organically derived molecules. Our application of infrared spectroscopy and synchrotron based x-ray analyses has already been successfully been applied to the fields of archaeology and palaeontology....but now we have to make this into a fun exhibit.
Dr Uwe Bergmann (above) has opened the Palaeo-Research group eyes to his X-Ray vision!
The potential for these techniques to gently un-pick the chemistry of long extinct species and archaeological finds is quite breath-taking. The possibility of mapping biosynthetic pathways, enzymatic reactions, the lost sentences of Greek philosophers and mass-transfer of elements between organic and inorganic systems through deep time offers much to science, not just palaeontology. More importantly, the hindsight that the chemical ghosts locked within the fossil record provides, will undoubtedly have benefits for understanding Earth processes, both today and in the future. Advances in this multidisciplinary field will yield a global impact....

....the exhibit we build for the Royal Society Exhibition, must explain all of the above....my busy semester just got a little busier!