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SEFS Inaugural Professorial Lecture Series - Professor Maria McNamara

School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences

25 January at 5pm | Sustainable Futures Lab | Iris Ashley Cummins Civil Engineering Building, UCC

The secrets of spectacular fossils: using new toolkits to revolutionise palaeontology

In recent years, the field of palaeontology has been transformed by the increasing adoption of cutting-edge technologies for imaging and analysis of fossils. Discoveries of preserved soft tissues in diverse fossil taxa have yielded dramatic and often controversial claims of preserved anatomical structures and biomolecules in fossils tens, and even hundreds, of millions of years old. A case in point is research on fossil colour, especially ancient melanin. In this talk Professor McNamara will review how her research has contributed to our understanding of the fossil record and of its limits, and the major challenges that remain.

Maria McNamara is a palaeobiologist who studies the evolution of animal coloration and of the vertebrate integument. Her work has a strong analytical focus, including electrobeam imaging (SEM, TEM, EPMA), vibrational spectroscopy (micro-FTIR and micro-Raman), and synchrotron X-ray analysis (XRF and XANES). Recent research highlights include the discovery that traces of ancient melanin can reveal the anatomy of fossil animals, that feathered dinosaurs shed their skin as dandruff like mammals, and that pterosaurs (the cousins of dinosaurs) had feathers.

Professor McNamara has a BSc(Hons) Earth Sciences from NUIG (2002) and a PhD in palaeobiology from UCD (2006). Following an IRCSET postdoctoral fellowship at UCD, she worked in STEM communication as the Geopark Geologist associated with the Burren-Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Geopark. Maria was then awarded a Marie Curie International Fellowship and spent three years at Yale University, followed by a postdoc position at the University of Bristol.

She joined UCC in 2013 as a College Lecturer, was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2016 and to Full Professor in 2020. She currently holds a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant to work on fossil biomolecules, building on her previous ERC Starting Grant working on fossil colour.

All welcome. Register here: