Primary School – Blackboys Primary School.
Secondary School – Ringmer Community College.
College (Year 12/13) – Lewes Sixth Form College.
Undergraduate Degree – Imperial College London.
Postgraduate Degree – Imperial College London
12 GCSEs (I can’t quite remember the full list, but I remember doing Maths, Double Science, English Lit/Lang, History, Geography, Art and Music).
4 AS Levels – Geology, Maths, Applied Art and Design, and Chemistry.
3 A Levels – Geology, Maths, Applied Art and Design.
Undergraduate Degree – MSci in Geology (a combined bachelors and half masters degree)
Postgraduate Degree – PhD in Geology/Palaeontology
Geologist Intern at Getech PLC.
Undergraduate Office Assistant, Imperial College London.
Postgraduate Research Fellow, University of Birmingham.
Curatorial Assistant, Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum, UK.
I am a music obsessed palaeontologist interested in what we see and what we don’t see in the fossil record, and why that’s the case!
Hi! I’m Chris, and I’ve just turned 30 (scary!). I have recently moved to Brighton after living in London for 11 years, and live with my girlfriend and my two very cute (but very grumpy) house rabbits, Hank Williams and Mouse. I absolutely love music, and spend the majority of my time/money collecting records/band t-shirts and attending gigs/festivals (which I am slightly regretting now after having to move hundreds of records from house to house!). I also love to draw, and I make silly comics with one of my pals in my spare time. For the last 4 and a half years I’ve been practising karate, and I’m currently working on achieving my first black belt. My preferred pronouns are He/Him. I’m looking forward to seeing all of your exciting questions!
I'm a palaeontologist that uses computer programs and models to better understand how and why the number of animals on earth has changed through time.
For my research, I focus on something a little odd. I look at what we see and what we don’t see in the fossil record, and why that’s the case.
Palaeontologists look at fossils (the remains of animals that have been turned to rock) to find out about how animals lived in the past, and compare their remains to see how they fit in the tree of life. Rather than looking at individual fossils, I use data on thousands of fossils to see how diversity (the number of different species of animals) has changed through time. By comparing this to other ancient records of temperature or environmental conditions, I can start to help understand larger patterns throughout Earth’s history.
However, there’s a problem with this that I’ll illustrate with a very silly example. Imagine if an alien was sent on a mission to find life on other planets, and landed on earth for the total of 10 minutes in the Sahara desert. This alien finds one insect and decides that’s the sum total of life on earth, and then flies off in his space ship after those 10 minutes. Obviously their conclusions are very wrong, but appear correct to the alien given the parameters with which it was forced to work within.
This is like us looking into the past. It’s very hard to make a fossil, as very specific environmental conditions are needed to do so, and because of this not all animals, or even all species, get preserved as fossils. Even accounting for the millions of fossils that have been found around the world, we’re really only been given a tiny tiny snapshot into the prehistoric world, and because of that we’re never going to have conclusions that are entirely accurate.
This problem of not accurately seeing the past is made worse by biases. A bias in the fossil record is a process that means you are more or less likely to find fossils. There is a huge, interconnected web of biases in the fossil record that can be caused either by natural processes, or man-made ones.
Natural biases are due to factors outside of our control; some examples would be erosion destroyingfossils before we can find them, the environment at the time not being suitable to fossilize creatures. Another interesting one is the idea of bias within the organisms themselves – for instance, animals consisting of mainly hard-parts, such as bones, are much more likely to be preserved than soft-bodied animals.
Man-made biases are processes that we as humans introduce. One example is that it’s not really possible to find fossils in areas that are covered by cities and buildings, so sometimes good places to find fossils have been lost when building developments have taken place. Another is due to human history – most fossils have been found in Europe and North America, however this is due to the fact that these areas have had the time, resources and economic/social stability to allow people to find fossils.
So what do we do about these biases? To fix these problems of biases in the fossil record, I use computer programming and modelling to better understand how and why these biases appear throughout time and space. Over the years, scientists have come up with a bunch of clever ways to correct for these biases. I am currently working on applying a new modelling technique to the fossil record that predicts the probability of a fossil being present in an area, as well as the probability that we will find it. I use the computer programming language R to write my code, and an amazing resource called the PaleoBiology DataBase (or PBDB) to get my fossil data. The PaleoBiologyDataBase is a website where scientists enter information about where different fossils are found. You can go to their website at https://paleobiodb.org/ and see where different fossils have been found around the world, maybe even near your house!
My Current Job
However, my current job is a little different. At the moment, I’m working as a curatorial assistant at the Natural History Museum. I’m part of a team that are organising the logistics for a new building that will house some of the Museum’s collections out in Harwell, Oxfordshire. My colleagues and I have been collecting data about the museum collections to better understand the requirements of the new building – how much space we’ll need to store all the collections, how we’ll stored fragile specimens, etc.
It’s a very exciting job as I get to work in the museum collections. Museums are like iceburgs in that the vast bulk of their collections are hidden – the majority of specimens are safely kept behind the scenes. For my job, I get to look and work with many of these specimens, so I get to see some incredible things! For instance, sat on the floor in the dinosaur collections is the tail of the duck billed dinosaur Edmontosaurus that can’t fit in any of the cabinets because it’s just too big! As someone who has loved natural history since being a kid, working in the museum is truly a dream job.
My Typical Day:
There is no such thing as a typical day at the museum!
Honestly, there is no typical day! One day I’ll be working with curators, looking through the collections to better understand how they should be moved and stored. The next I might be working on some spreadsheets, making sure our records of what’s in the collections are up to date. The next I might be called in to help disassemble furniture and move a bunch of specimens (dinosaur bones are very heavy!). The next I might be taking measurements around the museum, or working on outreach, or trying to come up with ways to solve a problem that’s emerged with the move… it’s a dynamic and exciting place to work!
What I do to help Planet Earth:
There are a number of things that I try to do in my daily life to help Planet Earth. I’ve been a vegetarian for the past 5 and a half years, for both ethical and environmental reasons, and I try to avoid purchasing food with excess plastic packaging. I also compost leftover food, garden and rabbit waste, which combined makes a surprisingly good fertiliser. I try to cycle for transport as much as possible, and otherwise take public transport (I embarressingly never learned to drive, which I guess is also good for the environment!). There’s nothing better than sitting on a a long train journey – you’re trapped in limbo with nothing to do but whatever you want to do at that time.
The CHRISTMAS LECTURE related to my work:
I was fortunate enough to appear in ‘Engine Earth’, Episode 1 of this years’ Royal Institute Christmas Lecture series hosted by the excellent Chris Jackson. I played a game with Chris showing how various things can stop us finding fossils, which can make our view of the past incorrect.
You can find the Christmas Lecture I appeared in here:
Lecture 1 – Engine Earth, at 45:30 https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000qpjk/royal-institution-christmas-lectures-2020-planet-earth-a-users-guide-1-engine-earth
My favourite CHRISTMAS LECTURE memory is:
As a kid, I watched Simon Conway Morris' Christmas Lecture where he showed an image that stuck with me for years. It was a drawing of the last dinosaur left after the asteroid impact that wiped out the flightless dinosaurs. It's an image that fuelled my interest in dinosaurs and palaeontology, and so it was a real dream come true to appear in the lectures this year.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Tall, kind, perfectionist
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Watching Jurassic Park at an inappropriately young age!
What was your favourite subject at school?
Surprisingly, I loved art/graphic design.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Either a graphic designer or a geologist
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, I was a bit of a goody two shoes!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I would love to make miniatures/models for films.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
There are a long list of contenders, but The Flaming Lips will always be number one.
What's your favourite food?
Very boring, but I'd have to say pizza. It's just the perfect food.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Discovering my first dinosaur bones whilst on fieldwork in the Morrison Formation, a section of rocks from the Jurassic period found across the centre of the USA. I found sauropod (long necked dinosaur) bones in the side of a cliff.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To be able to travel though time, so I could see what the world was like in the late Cretaceous; 2) to be indestructible, so I didn't get eaten by a dinosaur on my travels through time, 3) a Flaming Lips shirt from their 1993 tour in XL.
Tell us a joke.
Two muffins are being baked in an oven. One muffin says "Cor, it's getting a bit hot in here isn't it?". The other muffin says "Ahhh!! A talking muffin!"