Progressive Palaeontology 2019 – Day One

Article Written and Edited By: Adam Manning, Harry T. Jones, Jack Wood, J. D. Dixon, and Lewis Haller

Image by Lauren Malin.

Our team, along with fellow undergraduates Ben Campbell, Lauren Malin, Mia Wroe, Nye Morris, and Reece Hutton, volunteered to help the University of Birmingham’s designated ProgPal2019 committee with the setup and hosting of the event. After donning our brightly-coloured yellow t-shirts, we started the day at the Lapworth Museum of Geology working in shifts on the ProgPal reception desk. Here, we registered delegates, giving them their name badges, a Queerlobite badge (a trilobite design representing LGBTQ+ communities), and a sticker with their pronoun. They were then given the options to sign up for Lapworth Tours, an Urban Palaeo Expedition in the Birmingham city centre, or to pick up their pre-ordered ProgPal2019 dinner ticket and/or t-shirt. The university committee members were on hand to help with any issues or questions the delegates had.

Today there were two workshops: Introduction to the Palaeobiology Database with Richard Butler, and Introduction to Digital Palaeontology with Stephan Lautenschlager.

Richard’s workshop involved the Paleobiology Database (www.paleobiodb.org) – one of the largest international collaborative research projects in the palaeontological community. He went over the 20 year history of the organisation, which allows researchers across the globe to compile their data and share it with others. His workshop focused on helping delegates get involved with the database and showing them how to input data onto the site. The PBDB has over 400 researchers contributing from around the world. It is an open resource that compiles data on all fossils – through geologic time, around the globe, and across the tree of life – to enable data-driven projects that address “big questions” in palaeontology.

Digital visualisation, reconstruction and analysis techniques have become powerful tools in palaeontological research. Stephan’s workshop focused on the digitisation of palaeontology. He went through the uses of the animation software Blender (www.blender.org) in palaeontological research. Blender allows for the manipulation of 3D models, which can then be animated. Delegates were shown how to create objects in a digital environment, some using their own data sets for the task.

After this there was a scheduled discussion group, where several presenters in the palaeontological community introduced themselves with what they do and how they got there. Smaller groups then circulated with each presenter before a final Q&A, however we could not attend this session ourselves due to our volunteering duties.

Finally, at 6pm, there was an icebreaker event in Lapworth for delegates to socialise while enjoying a variety of drinks and a spread of food. We spoke to people from a range of different universities, and some independent delegates. In addition to friendly chit chat, we discussed various subjects such as micropalaeontology, conodonts, fossil mammals, palaeobotany, and palaeoart. We ended the day helping the committee clean up, ready for the next day, which we will cover in our next event post.