I’m a final-year PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast studying invertebrate nervous systems. My thesis centres on sensory systems in marine invertebrates, but my research interests extend to all aspects of neurobiology, behaviour and their evolution across the Tree of Life. I like to use a multi-disciplinary approach to study sensory systems, incorporating techniques from anatomical, behavioural and physiological fields of biology. Given how complex these systems can be, I think this is the best way to examine their structure and function in their full biological context. My PhD has focussed on sensory organs in deep sea molluscs (chitons, snails and scaphopods) and echinoderms (sea urchins and brittle stars), particularly photoreception and vision. This has included histology, electron microscopy, digital reconstructions, electrophysiology and behavioural experiments and I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Canada, Germany, Portugal and (soon) Panama for my research. I have also studied whole nervous systems and the evolutionary importance of their architecture, recently co-authoring a book chapter on this topic in the so-called minor classes of mollusc. Another important area of interest is the evolution of sensory and nervous systems, and their adaptation to new environments and challenges (think weird tubular fish-eyes and blind cave salamanders). During my Biotweeps week, I’ll be tweeting about weird and wonderful neurobiological and behavioural adaptations, as well as anything interesting that takes my fancy! Please feel free to ask me any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them!
I’m Curator of Natural History at the (Whanganui Regional Museum) in New Zealand. This is a small museum with a 19th-century natural history collection, and a very large collection of moa bones, mostly from a nearby swamp. Moa, New Zealand’s giant extinct flightless bird, are my main research interest—I did my PhD at Duke on the evolution of body size in giant flightlessness birds. I’m also interested in rather old-fashioned anatomy and biogeography; old-fashioned at least compared to the amazing ancient DNA research currently being done on extinct birds. Before I went back to school to study biology I working in museum exhibition development and science communication, and ended up teaching design and typography. Visual communication of science and the design of data graphics is still one of my enthusiasms. I’ve also just started a community (Wikipedia group), I think, is something museum curators and researchers need to take much more seriously.