1851 Research Fellow - School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences - The University of Manchester
I use X-ray techniques and other novel approaches to investigate past life. In particular, much of my research uses digital visualisation based on high-resolution CT scanning to study fossils, from early single-celled organisms through to members of the first ecosystems to develop on land.
Much of my research uses digital visualisation based on high-resolution CT scanning to study fossils - these include early single-celled organisms, the first animals to produce hard tissues more than 540 million years ago, and members of the first ecosystems to develop on land. This last topic sheds light on the process by which animals moving onto land (terrestrialisation), as well as the origins and early evolution of two very important animal groups: the arachnids and insects, which together account for the vast majority of known living species.
All of this work requires software to analyse data collected in both lab- and synchrotron-based CT scans, for which I use the open source software including Blender, Drishti, and SPIERS (of which I coded the SPIERSAlign portion of the software, the rest being the work of Dr Mark Sutton, at Imperial College). Much comparable commercial software is expensive - often more so than conducting scans themselves. Hence in some settings such as museums, and some parts of the world, this cost is preventing the more widespread application of these techniques.
One element of my work to date has been to provide training courses and introductory documentation/guides for these packages, and highlight that open source packages can be used in many settings. Another has been to use CT data for research-driven public engagement activities - an area also aided by open source software solutions. My goal as an SSI fellow is to continue these activities, and help remove some of the barriers preventing more widespread application of tomography in a wide range of settings and fields, highlighting the importance of sustainable software within this community, and demonstrating the power of open-source 3D studies for public engagement activities.