Shedloads of Awesome, part 2: Mike and Matt’s excellent adventure
December 3, 2008
Brachiosaurus: uglier than you think (we’re sorry, but it’s true).
UPDATE: Fig. 1 from Witmer (2001) showing hypothesized position of the fleshy nostrils in Brachiosaurus.
How awesome was our trip to Germany? I’ll tell you: it was easily the best conference AND the best research trip I’ve ever been on.
We started out with three solid days of sauropod talks at the University of Bonn. I’ve been going to SVP for ten years, and usually I’m lucky if there are three or four sauropod talks at the whole meeting, plus maybe half a dozen posters. There was so much going on in Bonn that after the first day, there were always two sets of talks running concurrently. Talk about your dilemmas! The best part of the workshop was talking to all of the people there who don’t work on sauropods primarily or at all, like nutritionist Peter Van Soest, ecologist Brian McNab, and physiologists Roger Seymour and Steve Perry (Seymour and Perry have both written important papers on sauropods, but those are tiny parts of their much broader research programs). These folks were genuinely interested in the problems of sauropod paleobiology, and they brought tons of experience and data from living animals that really grounded all of our discussions. Most of this stuff is in the literature and its not like paleontologists have completely ignored it, but there is a big difference between knowing that a paper exists somewhere and having the person who wrote it explain exactly what they’ve found and why it matters.
The field trip was great not only for the places we visited, but also to have three days to ride around with a busload of sauropodologists–some newly minted–and talk about all of the stuff that came up during the conference.
And then Berlin was…well, we took lots of pictures, so I’ll let them do the talking.
The overall effect of the trip was to pour a few tankers worth of gasoline on our intellectual fires (well, mine anyway–Mike got petrol). I went with a blank notebook and came home with enough ideas and measurements to keep me going for a long, long time. Mike and I took more than 1500 digital photos between us, and we’ll be mining those for data and for figures for the rest of our careers.
However big you think Brachiosaurus is, it’s bigger in person. I promise. You’ll recognize cervical 8 of the HM SII mounted skeleton from several of our tutorials.
The best thing about the trip was that we learned so much and had such a good time doing it. Often in academia we talk about an institution achieving a critical mass of workers in a particular field. It’s an apt metaphor–when you get a bunch of people together who share a common interest, the effect is more than additive. That’s even true if you just put two people together. I’ve been on loads of museum visits, many solo, and the research trips I’ve taken with Mike have been more than doubly productive. Two sets of eyes will notice a lot more than one, and two brains can attack a problem from many more angles. Now that I’ve gotten the damned dissertation out of the way, it may be a while before I write another single-authored paper. Cuz, why?