July 13th 2015 – Phil Cox, University of York

Philip CoxI am a lecturer at the University of York where I am member of both the Hull York Medical School and the Department of Archaeology (although really I’m a zoologist!). From my PhD onwards, I’ve worked on a wide variety of mammals spanning most of the mammalian family tree, but recently my research has focused down to one group that I find particularly fascinating – the rodents. To me, rodents are especially worthy of study because of their huge success in evolutionary terms (they are the largest group of mammals by a long chalk) and because of their highly derived and specialised feeding system.

Much of my research has concentrated on understanding the biomechanics of feeding in different rodents, extant and extinct. This is an exciting area of research at the boundary of biology and physics. As a dyed-in-the-wool life scientist, I never imagined my research would include physics, but it’s a fascinating field of research to be in. I use complex bioengineering techniques to virtually model rodent skulls and understand how they perform during feeding. This has allowed me to see how living rodent species are specialised for different activities, and to make predictions about the ecology of extinct rodents.

I have also been involved in the development of contrast-enhanced microCT – a scanning technique that uses iodine staining to enable the visualisation of soft tissues with microCT. I have used contrast-enhanced scans to describe the chewing muscles of rodents and reconstruct them in 3D. This technique is gathering quite a community of users now and we’re hoping it will become a standard methodology in morphological sciences.

During my week on biotweeps, I will be tweeting about rodents – why they are so successful as a group and why they are so interesting from a research perspective. I will also tweet about the computer modelling and contrast-enhanced scanning that I am currently doing, with lots of exciting images and reconstructions. If you want to know more about my research, visit my website www.drphilcox.com or follow me at @drphilcox .

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