Study with ICAL

ICAL members are highly active in research-led teaching and training at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Here you can find details of undergraduate and postgraduate training opportunities with the group.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life at The University of Manchester has more than ten faculty members actively researching topics in ancient life: from traces of some of the earliest bacteria, to the origins of our own species. Associated with these staff is a large community of PhD, masters and undergraduate students, working across fields and disciplines. As such, The University of Manchester is a vibrant and exciting place to conduct study, and we highlight a range of opportunities to join us below.

A key aim for ICAL is to ensure fair access: to identify and attract the very best students to Manchester, regardless of background. As such, the centre strongly supports and promotes the University’s social responsibility agenda, which is a core part of both our teaching and research. This is reflected by the strong infrastructure in place to support students at the University of Manchester.

Further details regarding ICAL, its members, and the facilities available to us are available on this website. We are here to answer any questions you might have regarding joining the group: contact details can be found below, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Undergraduate Palaeobiology pathway

Palaeobiology addresses major questions relating to the Earth’s living systems, their interplay over geological time, and the origins and evolution of today’s living world. Building on broad expertise in palaeobiology at the University of Manchester, ICAL members offer an option to specialise in Palaeobiology at an undergraduate level. This is taught in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences as a pathway (specialisation) in the Earth and Planetary Science (BSc and MEarthSci) degree. This degree has a common first year, allowing students to switch between pathways, after which they can specialise in topics of interest to them. The palaeobiology pathway can either be three years (BSc) or four years (MEarthSci), and is interdisciplinary, incorporating biology, zoology, and geology. By combining these topics, it includes study of the biodiversity and ecology of modern and ancient life, coupled with training in the geological processes that shape the history and future of Earth. Our students gain a broad range of essential geological and biological skills, and are brought to the cutting edge of modern techniques and research in palaeobiology and evolution, from the origins of life, and the age of dinosaurs, to the rise of modern humans. All of this has been designed with employability in mind, with clear routes into a range of different industries and also further study. A full module list will be released shortly. Meanwhile, if you have any questions regarding this pathway, please do feel free to contact us (ical@manchester.ac.uk).

You can apply for this degree programme at the Department of Earth and Environmental Science website: there is an overview of this pathway on the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Blog.

Postgraduate Study in ICAL

Researchers in ICAL have a range of specialisms and expertise in different areas. We would encourage you to read the research section of our website, and if identify a specific research area, or a potential research supervisor you would like to work with, to contact us (ical@manchester.ac.uk). We can then help you choose the best options, provide advice, and support your application.

We also have a number of potential project titles below, and can put you in touch with the relevant supervisor for any of these should you so wish. The University of Manchester website for postgraduate study has lots of information to help you decide the course that is right for you: It has further information you may find valuable. In particular, you can further details on funding study, including a funding opportunities database, information about our postgraduate researcher development program, and you might want to investigate the university's world leading library, award-winning careers service, and specialised research IT service. For 2019 entry funding is also available through the Manchester Master’s Bursary. Further details on PhD funding are outlined below.

Masters in Palaeontology

We offer two masters courses - research degrees that take place over a single year. One of these is an MPhil, which is a research degree that takes the form of a single project, conducted over a year. An MSc by Research includes a taught component in the form of three modules in addition to a research project. Both include a major piece of cutting edge research, and we offer projects in a wide range of areas: potential titles are listed below. Over the course of these degrees, you will carry out research into the topic that you have chosen, and finish with the publication of your own dissertation (which is how the degree is assessed in an MPhil, and a significant part of the mark for an MSc). The science is cutting edge, and will not have been conducted before - both programmes offer you the opportunity to become the world expert in a topic, and push the boundaries of one or a number of fields through novel research. 

Throughout the course of both of these programes you will receive supervision from members of academic staff from the ICAL team, working with them on research for your scientific project, and be supported through regular meetings regarding your work and a strong research support infrastructure provided by the faculty, as well as an active research community in ICAL. You can find details about the fees entry requirements, and how to apply, on the university website. A list of potential masters topics can be found below, providing an overview of the topics we can supervise masters projects in. Please contact us if you are interested in masters study and we can assist you in identifying a supervisor and guide you through the application process.

  • Potential Palaeontology Masters Topics

    A new great-appendage arthropod from the Ordovician of Morocco

    Backbones do the twist: Finite element modelling of torsion resistance in the axial skeleton

    CT reconstruction and phylogeny of fossil myriapods

    Gigantism in fossil scorpions: where, when and why?

    How does sampling fossils impact our understanding of the tree of life?

    How predictable is evolution?

    In silico mass extinctions and recovery

    Meristic (countable) characters in phylogenetic analyses

    Origins of Copper Proteins

    Palaeometallomics: Clues to the original biochemistry of complex organisms

    Reaction Rate Frameworks for Taphonomy

    The death of a red queen? Testing macroevolutionary drivers of cursoriality in mammals

    The Energy Envelope of Life: Activation Energies and the Temperature Limits of the Enzyme Advantage

    Unravelling the Hero shrew's bizarre backbone: Biomechanical implications of accessory vertebral articulations in Scutisore

Doctoral studies

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life offers doctoral students:

  • An established and exciting interdisciplinary research environment.
  • An academic team with an unrivalled depth and breadth of supervisory experience.
  • Excellent mentoring and early career support for researchers.
  • Access to existing national and international research networks and resources.

Our research students are encouraged to contribute to the broader student experience, integrating with the undergraduate population, promoting and practicing research led-teaching. There are also frequent opportunities to contribute to ICAL's Outreach and Widening Participation activities, allowing our students gain expertise in engaging the public and communicating their science. This includes the innovative outreach programmes that the University Museum already offers, and the ICAL outreach programme outlined on this website.

We welcome applications from suitable candidates at any time of year. Please approach potential supervisors or drop us an email if you have a project idea that is not currently listed, or have questions regarding PhD applications.

Every year we have a number of funded PhD opportunities available through the BBSRC doctoral trainining programs in the University of Manchester. These are awarded in competition with other projects and applicants. You can apply for them online. Proects available offered for 2021 were as follows (more will be announced in September 2021):

  • Mapping organic and inorganic chemistry with ageing in bone tissue 

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Mike Buckley

    Bone plays vital roles in the body. Structurally, through supporting body movement and protection of internal organs, and chemically, acting as a reservoir of minerals, blood cell production and molecules for endocrine regulation. It is a biological composite of an inorganic phase (predominantly calcium phosphate) and organic phase, the latter is dominated by collagen molecules that are arranged into fibrils and fibres, within gaps of which the nucleation of mineral crystals occurs.

    Recent advances in imaging technology, including those by members of this team using synchrotron-based elemental mapping, have started to improve our characterisation of the inorganic component of bone at resolutions not possible using conventional methods. However, these latest signals have yet to be linked with spatially mapping organic phase signals that drive bone growth and remodelling. For example, in addition to collagen, there are thousands of other proteins present, some of which play a role in directing the mineralization and growth of bone. The size, shape, and arrangement of the bone crystals influence the mechanical behaviour of bone, but these are affected by several factors involving bone remodelling and have consequences for crack initiation and propagation. Yet it is known that not only do a wide range of non-collagenous-proteins (NCPs) and other biomolecules influence this growth but age-related changes to collagen, such as advanced glycation end product and cross-linking formation, can also alter growth.

    Traditional methods, such as immunohistochemistry, are targeted approaches, whereas advances in proteomic methods now allow for untargeted ways of investigating a much wider range of organic signals. We have begun to study the aging proteomes of bone (Procopio et al. 2017), identifying a suite of proteins that appear to correlate with skeletal aging, some of which clearly have direct functional relationships, e.g., fetuin-A with bone elongations, but there are many more organic signals of the cyclical remodelling process, whether growth factors being released as part of the activation phase, or enzymes as part of the resorption phase. Through the incorporation of imaging mass spectrometry in addition to shotgun proteomics, this project will seek to integrate complementary multiscale datasets that inform the structural properties and both inorganic as well as organic chemistry of bone throughout growth and remodelling by analysing entire cross-sectional rat limb samples. This will aim to promote a step-change in the understanding of how the inorganic and organic components of bone interact to provide bone with its material properties and structure, down to the cellular level in three-dimensions.

  • Testing the accuracy of evolutionary inferences from morphological phylogeny

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Robert Sansom

    Phylogenetic data are fundamental for understanding evolution. Building and analysing trees from genotypic and phenotypic data is necessary to reconstruct evolutionary relationships, diversifications, rates, and dynamics. Molecular data have had a renaissance with respect to development of ‘big data’ approaches, and a plethora of analytical tools. Morphological data are also essential, especially because of their role in analysis of fossils thus providing deep time-perspectives. They are, however, relatively neglected. In order for morphology to enter the 21st century and address big evolutionary questions, it also needs a modern big data approach. This PhD will directly test morphological data, morphological methods, and morphological inferences by asking 1) Are trees inferred from morphological data accurate and reproducible? 2) How important is the inference method to the inferred tree topology? 3) Are hypotheses about evolutionary dynamics (e.g. “early burst”) supported by meta-analysis of multiple datasets rather than individual case studies (i.e. what general evolutionary patterns can be inferred from big morphological data?). This is necessary not only because of the historic difficulties in reproducing published phylogenetic results from the given data, but also the disputes over inference methods from morphology (in particularly parsimony versus Bayesian inference), as well as to address major evolutionary questions. With ambiguity existing over the reproducibility of morphological trees and doubt over the accuracy of the historically dominant inference methods, we face an important (but potentially embarrassing) question: how much do we actually know about morphological evolution?

    This interdisciplinary project will study both fossil and extant organisms across the tree of life. It will provide new insights into both the patterns and the mechanisms of macroevolution. It represents a unique opportunity for applicants interested in both evolution in deep time and data handling techniques, and will allow the student to achieve training in a wide range of analytical techniques, including phylogenetics, reproducibility, software engineering, and data analysis in R; these skills will lend themselves to multiple future career paths.

  • The timing and modes of macroevolutionary change: molecules, morphology, and simulations 

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Russell Garwood

    Macroevolution occurs over time spans of millions of years. Two approaches can be taken in identifying and understanding macroevolutionary patterns and processes - empirical and theoretical. For example, the mode and tempo of evolutionary change can be investigated using phylogenies of living and extinct species, and through computer simulations replicating evolution in digital organisms/species [1,2]. These contrasting approaches are complementary, but each has limitations: empirical data contain biases (fossilisation, for example), whilst by necessity simulations are highly simplified. Used together, these limitations can be overcome. This project will use both empirical data and simulations to identify widespread patterns, and explore the dynamics of origination, diversification and extinction of clades in light of rates of evolution and possible drivers. Compilation of combined morphological and molecular phylogenetic datasets from across the tree of life will enable a meta-analysis to investigate the relationship between (rates of) phenotypic and genotypic evolution. By combining data from distantly-related groups we can test for general patterns in relative rates of change at the origin of species, clades and anatomical novelties, and shifts at major environmental transitions and extinctions. All these are topics that can then be studied further within an in silico system. REvoSim is a custom-written software package developed by members of the supervisory team. It is capable of simulating evolution for large populations (>1 million) of individuals over long time periods (>5 million iterations). While simplified, it incorporates key aspects of biological evolution, including breeding, spatial species-structure, and a changing environment. It will allow widespread patterns to be better understood, and the underlying mechanisms to be experimentally investigated.

    This interdisciplinary project will study both fossil and extant organisms across the tree of life, with a complementary simulation approach. It has the potential to provide new insights into both the patterns and the mechanisms of macroevolution. It represents a unique opportunity for applicants interested in both computational techniques and evolution in deep time, and will allow the student to achieve training in a wide range of analytical techniques, including phylogenetics, software engineering, and data analysis in R; these skills will lend themselves to multiple future career paths.

    [1] Garwood, R.J., Spencer, A.R.T. & Sutton, M.D. 2019. REvoSim: Organism-level simulation of macro- and microevolution. Palaeontology 62(3):339-355. doi:10.1111/pala.12420
    [2] Landis, M.J. and Schraiber, J.G., 2017. Pulsed evolution shaped modern vertebrate body sizes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(50), pp.13224-13229.

Please feel free to emails the primary supervisor for more information regarding any of these topics. Other potential projects, for e.g. self-funded study, include:

  • Evolution in silico and in vitro: environmental change, mutation and space 

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Russell Garwood

    Understanding evolutionary processes requires an interplay between wet-lab experiment and computational simulation [1]. This project will use model systems for both to explore the interplay of evolutionary processes (primarily mutation) and the spatial environment.

    REvoSim is a custom-written piece of software, developed by members of the supervisory team [2]. It is capable of simulating evolution for large populations (>1 million) of individuals over long time periods (>5 million iterations). REvoSim uses a simplified model for computational efficiency, but incorporates many aspects of real biological evolution. 64-bit digital organisms are modelled within a 2D RGB-colour based environment. Fitness depends on this environment. The organisms: have a coding and non-coding genome; can breed sexually or asexually; can move in 2D space; can mutate; can form different species; and have a limited or unlimited lifespan. The environment can be static or dynamic, and if the latter, can have variable rates of change. The system has a large number of variables, allowing the impact of each to be assessed; for example, the impact of rate of mutation on fitness, and the effect rate of environmental change has on the evolutionary patterns observed.

    However, computational simulation results require truthing in wet-lab experiments. The organisms simulated in REvoSim bear similarity to microbes, which can also be evolved experimentally [1]. We have used such approaches to look at basic mechanisms of evolution, in particular the relationship of mutation and the environment [3], including the social environment [4]. This project will groundtruth the results of EvoSim simulations through complementary wet-lab work. Like REvoSim digital organisms, these can be studied over realistic time spans, and in large populations, both in spatial environments (agar plates) [5] and non-spatial environments (shaken broth). This project will use the bacterium Escherichia coli and yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to test qualitative and quantitative predictions from EvoSim.

    This interdisciplinary combination of in-silico and lab-based study of evolution, can provide new insights into how evolution works. The consilience between complementary approaches will hone in on the driving forces behind different evolutionary patterns. This represents a unique opportunity for applicants interested in both computational biology approaches and labwork, and will allow the student to both write software in C++ and train in wet-lab techniques: a combination which will lend itself to multiple future career paths

  • Proteome Dynamics in Ageing Bone 

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Mike Buckley 
    Co-Supervisors: Professor Andrew ChamberlainProfessor Roy Wogelius

    Bone is a composite material made up of an approximately 25-30% organic component, which is predominantly structural protein, and the remainder an inorganic phase, predominantly calcium phosphate mineral. Despite its biomineralisation, bone is not an inert tissue, but one that changes throughout the lifetime of an individual, and can be affected by many aspects of the individual organism’s life, such as diet and health. The bone proteome is the complete set of different proteins that in some way interact with bone tissue, the complexity and decay state of which continues to alter during the remodelling process, which itself changes with ageing. However, the processes by which proteins in the extracellular matrix signal for remodelling (e.g., deamidation and/or oxidation), and how these signals change through time is poorly understood. This project would seek to explore the potential of proteomic-based techniques to understanding biological signatures in bone remodelling, particularly how these differ between individuals of the same species as well as between different skeletal elements of the same individual and changes within the same skeletal elements through time. The project will explore the practical reproducibility of top-down and bottom-up proteomics methods and evaluate the most appropriate means to measure the changes that occur during the ageing process, supported by mapping of the inorganic phases of the bone tissue. This project would be suitable for a molecular biologist with interests in broadening their expertise in bone biology as well as learning cutting-edge techniques in imaging, with application applications to biomineralised tissues. 

  • Integrating morphology, fossils and molecules to evaluate major evolutionary events 

    Principal SupervisorDr Rob Sansom 
    Co-Supervisors: Professor Chris KlingenbergProfessor David Robertson

    Recent advances have provided a wealth of molecular data with which to build phylogenies and study evolutionary processes. Morphology, however, remains fundamental for reconstructing how organisms have changed and evolved through time. Indeed, it is usually the only kind of data yielded by fossils. However, a large gap exists between genomic and phenomic data limiting our ability to use either to evaluate evolutionary hypotheses. For example, which aspects of morphology are in accordance with molecular data and can be used to reliably reconstruct major evolutionary events? Do genetic innovations such as gene and genome duplication events match morphological innovation, integration or radiation? This project aims to address these outstanding questions by collating and integrating genetic, morphological, and morphometric datasets from across the tree of life. The combined datasets will not only provide a tool kit with which to better reconstruct morphological phylogenies but also to better evaluate the nature and tempo of evolutionary processes. 
  • Quantitative Measures of Quaternary Palaeobiodiversity Using Proteomic Methods 

    SupervisorsDr Mike BuckleyProfessor Andrew Chamberlain and Professor Phil Manning

    The causes and consequences of changes in biodiversity are research questions of central interest to ecology and palaeontology, and the assessment of biodiversity is fundamental to informing decisions in conservation biology. In present-day ecosytems, biodiversity can be assessed through the morphological and molecular identification of evolutionarily significant taxonomic units (usually species and subspecies) but for fossil assemblages this approach can be confounded by sedimentological and taphonomic processes as well as the limitations of morphologically-based systematics. The primary aim of this doctoral project will be to use state-of-art biomolecular methods (bone protein fingerprinting) to develop measures of biodiversity that can be applied to the Pleistocene and early Holocene fossil record.

  • Multidisciplinary Approach to Pleistocene Cave Taphonomy, Cayman Brac (Cayman Islands) 

    SupervisorsProfessor Phil ManningProfessor Roy WogeliusDr Mike Buckley, Dr. Victoria Egerton, Professor Andrew ChamberlainDr Bill Sellers and Dr Bart van Dongen

    The proposed project seeks to resolve the cave taphomomy of the unexplored caves and rock fissures of Cayman Brac and review faunal assemblages indicative of taxonomic diversity throughout the period spanning human colonisation of the region, potentially dating back to before the last inter-glacial period (>130,000 years). The cave systems are currently threatened by residential developments that includes new tourism infrastructure (see Cayman Islands Government Strategic Policy Statement 2014-2015), reinforcing the urgent need for this research to be undertaken.

  • Experimental decay and fossilization of soft tissues 

    SupervisorsDr Rob SansomProf Jon LloydDr Bart van Dongen

    The exceptionally preserved fossil record of soft tissues sheds unique and powerful light on evolutionary events as diverse as the Cambrian explosion of animal diversity and the colour of dinosaur feathers. Soft tissues are, however, distorted and transformed during decay and fossilization. To make sense of these changes and the data that the fossils provide, it is necessary to experimentally investigate decay in laboratory settings. The resulting patterns and processes can completely transform our understanding of fossils and the inferences drawn from them (Sansom et al 2010, Raff et al 2008). In many senses however, the links between experimental decay data and empirical fossil data remains unclear. Are the chemical, biological and physical parameters of experiments realistic given geological parameters? Can results be generalized given variability in sediments and microbial ecology? How do these considerations affect interpretations of the fossil data? This project aims to test the validity of experimental taphonomy by investigating processes of decay, their applicability to the fossil record and thus the evolutionary inferences drawn. 

  • Proteomic and Stable Isotope Analysis of Mummified Ancient Tissues

    Principal Supervisor: Professor Andrew Chamberlain

    Co-Supervisor: Dr Mike Buckley

    Stable isotope analyses of human and animal remains from ancient cultures can provide insights into the diets and lifestyles of past populations. However, skeletal remains (bones and teeth) are normally the only tissues available for chemical and biological analyses of ancient remains. In exceptional cases, such as through natural and artificial mummification, soft-tissues can be preserved, but little is known about how these modes of preservation affect stable isotope signatures. This project will investigate factors affecting protein preservation and stable isotope fractionation in naturally mummified human remains from sites in ancient Egypt and Nubia as well as in samples of naturally and artificially mummified animals. Proteomes obtained from bone, skin and connective tissues will be analysed using a combination of proteomic and mass spectroscopic methods in order to determine the relationship between isotopic fractionation and protein preservation in different types of tissue.

  • Reconstructing the flight capabilities of fossil birds

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Codd

    One of the most compelling unanswered questions in evolutionary biology is exactly when, how and why bird flight evolved. Key to unravelling the origins of bird flight is the ability to bring fossil birds, such as Archaeopteryx, and their feathered ancestors (proto-birds) to life. One way of gaining insights into the flight capabilities of fossils is to use theoretical approaches based upon aerodynamics or biomechanical principles. Biometric parameters taken from the fossils are fed into these theoretical models and flight performance bounds determined. The overarching aim of this project is to reconstruct the flight ability of feathered fossils using a suite of theoretical approaches to inform our understanding of the evolution of flight in birds.

  • The Application of Proteomics to Palaeodemography

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Mike Buckley

    Human skeletal remains have the potential to provide a wealth of valuable information about the origins and affinities, growth and development, diet, health and lifestyles of individuals in the historical and prehistoric past. Yet skeletal remains are sometimes found highly fragmented, inhibiting our ability to identify individuals or estimate population numbers. Molecular techniques can provide a means to further understanding aspects of palaeodemography. We would be interested in exploring the potential of proteomic-based techniques to understanding biological signatures in ancient human bone, particularly how these differ between individuals as well as between different skeletal elements of the same individual. This project would also seek to improve our understanding of how molecular preservation is affected by different burial conditions.

  • Understanding Life in the Freezer: locomotor performance as the key to understanding the possible influences of climate change in high Arctic species

    Principal Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Codd

    Scientific research has focused on the Arctic recently as this region is at high risk from the effects of climate change. Animal energy budgets are linked to species survival and are composed of various factors including the cost of locomotion. These costs associated with activities such as walking and running are likely to be significant as the predicted outcomes for the effects of climate change are shifts in the amounts of time apportioned to different activities. Maintaining an energy balance is vital to the energy conservation and evolutionary fitness of all organisms. However, our current understanding of the basic physiology of many of the animals living in this region is not sufficient to allow inferences into the possible effects of climate change to be properly assessed. Therefore, this project will use a combination of laboratory and field based techniques to investigate the daily energy budgets and cost of locomotion for Arctic species including reindeer and ptarmigan.

  • Evidence for intestinal parasites in Archosaurs (extant and extinct) 

    Principal SupervisorProfessor Phil Manning 
    Co-Supervisors: Professor Kath ElseDr Sheena Cruickshank

    Parasitic organisms are globally abundant and occur in hosts ranging from humans to whales and from chickens to alligators. The extant phylogenetic bracket (EPB) might help predict the types of parasites that dinosaurs and other extinct archosaurs might have encountered, but sparse evidence has been identified to constrain which side of the EPB such parasites might favour (crocodilian or avian). While in most cases, parasites are tolerated and do not a?ect the well-being of their hosts, when new strains appear or established parasites are suddenly transferred to new hosts, the results can be devastating. Parasites residing in the tissues or alimentary tract of their hosts are soft bodied and their chances of fossilisation are poor. However, most gastro-intestinal parasites produce a resistant stage that aids them in the transfer from host to host, usually via faecal material. Thus by collecting and identifying these resistant stages (cysts, eggs, etc.) prehistoric parasites could be identi?ed. Dinosaur coprolites have been used in the past to supply information on the diet of their producers (Chin et al. 1998; Prasad et al. 2005). While fossilized dung samples from humans have provided evidence of intestinal parasites (Gonccalves et al. 2003), there is only one published record of parasites from dinosaur or other coprolites from Mesozoic terrestrial organisms (Poinar and Boucot, 2006). This project aims to identify extant parasites and the damage they cause in the gut and faeces of archosaurs (avian and crocodilian) and then process samples from fossil coprolites and rare dinosaur embryo remains to identify parasite evidence. 

  • Application of synchrotron techniques to fossil arthropod exoskeletons 

    Supervisors: Professor Roy Wogelius, Professor Phil Manning and Dr Bart van Dongen

    Multidisciplinary approaches to the analyses of fossilised soft tissue and bone have shown that endogenous organic compounds can survive through geologic time. The coupling of synchrotron-based X-ray and infra-red methods can serve to non-destructively resolve the survival of organic compounds derived from fossil and extant organisms, also spectroscopic detail can assist in understand the chemistry of exceptional preservation. Here we propose the use of Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) to spatially resolved organic functional groups within Palaeozoic to recent (extant) arthropod materials to understand any biological controls on the distribution of amide and other organically bound compounds.

  • Assessing fossils and fossilization to reconstruct the origin and evolution of arthropods 

    Supervisors: Dr Robert Sansom, Professor Phil Manning, Professor Roy Wogelius and Dr Jonathan Codd

    Can the fossil record be reliably used to reconstruct the relationships of extinct organisms? How is our understanding of evolutionary processes changed when we take fossilization processes and biases into account? This project aims to address these questions by focusing on the problematic origins of a complex clase – the arthropods. Three differing approaches will be taken: geochemical analysis of mechanisms of preservation, experimental investigation of fossilization processes and phylogenetic simulations.

  • Biomolecule exchange with the natural environment during vertebrate tissue decomposition

    Supervisors: Dr Michael Buckley, Dr Bart van Dongen, Dr Franciska De Vries and Professor Phil Manning

    Decomposition, typically carried out by a range of invertebrates, fungi and bacteria, is the natural process of recycling deceased animal/plant tissue into the building blocks required for new life. The project will investigate the influence of environmental factors (temperature, pH, oxygen availability, etc.) on the rates of movement of biomolecules from decomposing tissues leaching into the environment, as well as the changes in microbial activity in the surrounding soil.

  • Keratin taphonomy in the fossil record

    Supervisors: Dr Bart van Dongen, Professor Roy Wogelius and Professor Phil Manning

    Our group has employed synchrotron based XRF imaging to chemically map extremely rare fossils, to enable a more complete understanding of the taphonomic pathways that led to their preservation. This project aims to extend our knowledge of the preservation of distinct biomaterial and more fully understand its alteration through geological time.

  • Radioactive Dinosaurs: the Geochemistry of Radionuclide Uptake in Fossilized Bone Minerals 

    Supervisors: Professor Phil Manning, Professor Roy Wogelius and Dr Bart van Dongen

    The Hell Creek Formation (Late Cretaceous) consists of a productive succession containing the fossil remains of dinosaurs and contemporary fauna/flora in South Dakota, USA. The proposed project will allow the excavation, collection of data, specimen analyses using both field-based and laboratory experiments to help elucidate the taphonomy of this unique Late Cretaceous bone-bed from the Hell Creek Formation.

  • Taphonomy of a multi-taxa bone bed in the Hell Creek formation of South Dakota 

    Supervisors: Professor Phil Manning, Professor Roy Wogelius and Dr Bart van Dongen

    The Hell Creek Formation (Late Cretaceous) consists of a productive succession containing the fossil remains of dinosaurs and contemporary fauna/flora in South Dakota, USA. The proposed project will allow the excavation, collection of data, specimen analyses using both field-based and laboratory experiments to help elucidate the taphonomy of this unique Late Cretaceous bone-bed from the Hell Creek Formation.

  • The taphonomy of fossil arthropod exoskeletons and terrestrialisation

    Supervisors: Dr Russell Garwood, Professor Phil Manning, Dr Bart van Dongen and Professor Roy Wogelius

    Multidisciplinary approaches to the imaging and analysis of fossils has recent shown that endogenous trace-metal inventories and related organic compounds can survive through geological time. This project will use Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIT) spectroscopy to spatially resolve organic functional groups within Palaeozoic to recent (extant) arthropod materials, with a particular focus on cuticle macerates that record early life on land, and modern analogues.

  • Temporal impacts upon mass transfer and spatial chemistry in fossils

    Supervisors: Dr Lee Margetts, Professor Phil Manning and Professor Roy Wogelius

    The Palaeontology Research Group at the University of Manchester have been successfully using Synchrotron Rapid Scanning X-ray Fluorescence (SRS-XRF) and spectroscopy (XANES, EXAFS, etc.) to study the geochemistry and endogenous biochemistry of fossil specimens and the sedimentary rocks in which they are encased. Each experiment represents a snapshot in time that results from a complex interplay of processes that occurred over geological periods of time. The aim of this project is to develop a computer-based simulation tool that can be used to test "what happened" hypotheses and see how accurately we can reconstruct the chemical taphonomy of a sample from the time of death up until the present day. The project is very challenging and requires expertise in engineering mathematics (the finite element method) and computer programming.

    The Palaeontology Research Group at the University of Manchester have been successfully using Synchrotron Rapid Scanning X-ray Fluorescence (SRS-XRF) and spectroscopy (XANES, EXAFS, etc.) to study the geochemistry and endogenous biochemistry of fossil specimens and the sedimentary rocks in which they are encased. Each experiment represents a snapshot in time that results from a complex interplay of processes that occurred over geological periods of time. The aim of this project is to develop a computer-based simulation tool that can be used to test "what happened" hypotheses and see how accurately we can reconstruct the chemical taphonomy of a sample from the time of death up until the present day. The project is very challenging and requires expertise in engineering mathematics (the finite element method) and computer programming.

Suggest your own

The research projects described here should give you a taste of the topics and scope we cover. We welcome project suggestions from prospective students, who should get in touch to discuss the feasibility of their own ideas and identify a supervisor.

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