Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Day In the Life, with TW:eed Project’s Becky Bennion

The TW:eed Project keeps on growing, with new volunteers, researchers and student projects!

Becky Bennion is an undergraduate at The University of Cambridge. She has recently started a summer placement at The University Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge. She is working on Early Carboniferous sharks, with a special focus on the preparation of rock samples to reveal shark teeth and bones. Her work is helping to reveal some really exciting new fossils! I recently caught up with her to find out how she has been getting on and ask her some questions.

How did you become interested in the project?

I’ve been fascinated by fossils my entire life, and have spent a lot of my childhood collecting specimens from the beaches near Whitby where I live. This love of the natural world led me to Cambridge where I am currently an undergraduate studying Natural Sciences.

I really wanted to gain useful experience this summer with fossil preparation and analysis, so I asked Jenny Clack during a practical class if she had anything she could offer. To my surprise she said yes, and here I am!

What do you hope to achieve in your work placement this summer?

I hope to find some interesting specimens which will be of use to the project in the long term!
It’s incredibly exciting to be working with material which no one has looked at before.

What has been your most exciting discovery to date?

I was lucky enough to accompany the team for a week’s fieldwork in the Scottish borders at the end of June. Whilst there we visited a new locality and I spotted some pieces of bone sticking out of part of the cliff, which was incredibly exciting! Although there hasn't been time to analyse the specimen yet, I'm hoping it will be significant to the project.

My summer project itself consists of preparing rock samples with acid, then analysing the chondrichthyan (shark) fossils which remain. So far we have found hundreds of fragments of teeth and other bones, including a few unusual teeth which we weren't expecting!

Becky preparing specimens in the lab to extract fossils

Becky examining specimens under the microscope

Fantastic work Becky!

Until next time

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

TW:eed Masters Projects kick off with field studies

Last week I was up in the Scottish Borders for a week of fieldwork. It was fantastic weather all week, with comfortable heat wave temperatures of 20oC in the shade and hardly any rain. I was joined by field assistant Kirsty Summers, a second year undergraduate from the University of Leicester. We surveyed and sampled two new field sites, along with revisiting the main coastal site to work on a few specific sections while they were accessible at low tide.
Low tide at the main field site, with excellent rock exposure

Starting their Masters research projects with field studies were University of Leicester students Hattie Dulson and Greg Phillpotts.
Hattie’s project is titled “How variable were the Early Carboniferous ecosystems inhabited by the earliest four-limbed vertebrates?“. This project will test the hypothesis that an interval with newly-discovered plant and tetrapod fossils represents a transition from a non-marine to a marine-influenced environment.  
Greg’s project is titled “Why were the Early Carboniferous floodplains of southern Scotland key sites for preservation of the earliest four-limbed vertebrates?” This project will test the hypothesis that a key interval with important early tetrapod fossils represents an entirely non-marine floodplain environment.
And my field assistant from last year, Rachel Curtis is doing a borehole-related Masters project entitled “Early Carboniferous depositional environments in the Northumberland Basin and implications for carbon-isotope stratigraphy”. This project will test the hypothesis that the Northumberland Basin was more marine-influenced than the neighbouring Tweed Basin.
TW:eed Project 2014 Master’s students and field assistants, clockwise from top left: Greg Phillpotts, Kirsty Summers, Rachel Curtis and Hattie Dulson

I’m really looking forward to working with these students over the coming months and seeing what they discover.

Until next time