University of Leicester PhD student invited to Vienna to present his research on how living things become fossils

Posted by ap507 at Apr 19, 2016 10:00 AM |
Third year PhD student Thomas Clements will give a talk at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly on April 22

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 19 April 2016

  • Third year student Thomas Clements will give a talk at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly on April 22
  • His presentation will outline his work which examines how soft tissues, such as liver, guts and gills become preserved as fossils
  • More than 11,000 people will attend the annual event which is aimed at bringing together geoscientists from across the continent so they can share information

A University of Leicester palaeontologist has been invited to Vienna to talk about his doctoral research in the field taphonomy – the process of fossilisation.

PhD student Thomas Clements will travel to the Austrian capital on April 19, to deliver a presentation to the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly, which outlines his work which aims to further understanding how fossils form.

He will join thousands of academics from institutions throughout Europe at the Austria Center Vienna – a 22,000sqm exhibition and international conference centre.

Thomas, a third year PhD student, is currently researching the taphonomy of a 307 million year old fossil bed in the USA called the Mazon Creek.

“It has all sorts of animals preserved,” he said. “From fish, amphibians, insects, worms and even jellyfish. The presentation is on my current research which focuses on understanding how these fossils form.”

Taphonomy is a sub-science of palaeontology that focuses on what happens to an organism’s carcass after death, from the moment it dies to the geological process that turn flesh into stone, forming a fossil.

Thomas said: “Most fossils are bones, shells and teeth. This is because they are ‘recalcitrent’ which means they tend to rot at a very slow rate. Normally, soft tissues, like skin, muscles or internal organs, rots away very quickly and only the bones remain. Then over a geological time span, these hard parts turn into fossils.”

“But, very, very rarely we find fossils where the soft parts have preserved. My PhD focuses on a fossil site in the USA which has 307 million year old fossil fish that have preserved muscle, skin and even eyes!”

“They look like they have fallen asleep and turned to rock – we call this the ‘Medusa effect’ because of the ancient Greek myth of the gorgon who could turn people who looked at her instantly into stone.”

The EGU's General Assembly, which this year takes place between April 17 and 22, aims to bring to together geoscientists from all over the world to discuss research related to Earth, planetary and space sciences.

The event is expected to attract journalists interested in geology, palaeontology and connected fields of research, with Thomas's talk, as well as others, being streamed live on the EGU website.

It will be the first time that Thomas has presented his work at such an event.

“It will certainly be a new experience for me,” he said. “As a PhD student, I’ve been to a few conferences but I’ve never given a press conference. I’m excited and nervous all at the same time.”

The press conference in which Thomas will take part is called ‘How ancient organisms moved and fed: finding out more from fossils’, and runs from 11am to 12pm.

He will be joined by two other speakers: Peter Falkingham, a lecturer in Natural Sciences and Psychology, at Liverpool John Moores University, and Imran Rahman, Research Fellow, at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.



You can contact Thomas via:

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