The following comprises a short list, in no particular order, of some of my career highlights.
‘Plaster Cast’ to New Species Named in Honour of Mary Anning. In 2008, aged 18, I rediscovered an ichthyosaur specimen held in the collections at Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery. The specimen was identified as a plaster copy, but I realised that it was real. Over the course of 5+ years of research, working with Prof Judy Massare, we determined that it was a new species to science and named it Ichthyosaurus anningae in honour of late Georgian – early Victorian palaeontologist, Mary Anning, who also happened to be a childhood hero of mine.
Winning a Gold Medal for Excellence in Science. In 2015, I presented my research on a new species of ichthyosaur as part of the Set for Britain 2015 event, held in the Houses of Parliament, London. Set for Britain is aimed at early career scientists who are passionate and enthusiastic about their subject area and who can communicate detailed, scientific research to an interested layperson (which included MP’s). Competing against 59 other early stage researchers, from various universities, I came first in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences competition and won the prestigious gold medal (G. J. Mendel Award) for excellence in science.
Dinosaurs of the British Isles. As a teenager, I often wondered why there was no one book dedicated to British dinosaurs, after all the very concept of dinosaurs is a ‘British invention’ (really). It wasn’t until after the publication of my first book, Fossils of the Whitby Coast, which gave me the determination to begin writing this dino book at the age of 22. This Cetiosaurus-sized project included taking numerous trips across the British Isles (and also in the US), examining thousands of British dinosaur remains, reviewing an extensive literature and corresponding with palaeontologists across the globe. It took three and a half years to write. I like to think that the book helps cement the significance of the British dinosaur record.
Describing a Colossal ‘Sea Dragon’ the Size of a Blue Whale. In 2016, a 205 million year old giant jaw bone was found on a beach in Somerset, England, by fossil collector and friend, Paul De la Salle. Studying Paul’s find, my team determined that this bone belonged to a truly enormous ichthyosaur. Comparing it with the 21 metre long Shonisaurus sikanniensis skeleton at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada, our work showed that Paul’s bone belonged to an animal that may have been up to 26 metres long. Furthermore, we re-examined several so-called ‘dinosaur bones’ from the UK that also turned out to be jaw bones of giant ichthyosaurs. Estimates of one of the bones suggest an animal that may have been in excess of 30 metres! I’m still hoping for a full skeleton – one can wish.
The Examination of an Icon. In 2009, whilst at the Paläontologische Museum in Munich, Germany, I was part of a small team that had the immense privilege to examine and compare six of the original Archaeopteryx specimens, along with the original Archaeopteryx feather and Compsognathus specimen, all from the Solnhofen area of Germany. This still holds a special place in my heart, especially considering that I was only 19!
Dinosaur Britain – A Primetime TV Series. Just as with the British dinosaur book, for a long time I had the idea of a TV documentary about British dinosaurs, but it took years for a TV company to bite. Working with the brilliant team at Maverick TV, we made this a reality. The idea was based, in part, on my book Dinosaurs of the British Isles, and developed with Dan Goldsack (Maverick TV). I was the expert co-presenter alongside presenter, Ellie Harrison. Having a TV show dedicated to British dinosaurs, and seeing my book come to life, is something I’m very proud of.
Describing The World’s Longest ‘Death Track’. As part of one of my studies, I described the longest fossilised ‘death track’ (called a mortichnion – a fun word, I know) in the world. This specimen comprises a 9.7 m long trackway created by a horseshoe crab with the animal preserved at the end. This Jurassic specimen was collected from the famous area of Eichstätt (Solnhofen), Germany. It is still one of the most remarkable fossils I’ve had the privilege of studying.
Discovering a New Fossil Site in My Hometown. Doncaster is famous for its mining history whereby lots of fossils, dating to around 310 million years old, have been collected from deep underground. Unfortunately, many of these fossils never made it into the local museum collection. In 2012, along with a friend and colleague, I discovered a fossil site with Lagerstätte style preservation (a site with exceptional preservation) in Doncaster, which has so far yielded fossils never before reported in the town (or the county), including the remains of sharks and horseshoe crabs. Fossil-rich areas in Doncaster are rare.