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VIRTUAL EVENT - GSL Public Lecture: Getting inside the heads of early vertebrates

02 September 2020
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Event type:
Lecture, Virtual event
Organised by:
Geological Society Events, 2020 Year of Life
Virtual event
Event status:

Animals with backbones (vertebrates) have an evolutionary history of nearly half a billion years, with fossils instrumental in understanding how the group became so hugely successful.

Jawed bony fishes account for 99% of living vertebrate species, and over half of these are ray-finned fishes: staples of the aquarium and fishmonger, encompassing everything from goldfish to seahorses to cod. However, the double barriers of geological time and fossil preservation has led to a poor understanding of the early history and evolution of ray-fins.

Many of the major innovations that drove ray-fins to be so diverse are tied up in the braincase, a bony box that sits within the head and houses the brain and sensory organs. Traditionally, these internal structures would be accessed by gradually grinding the fossil away into dust, recording the morphology through a series of drawings. 

By using x-ray tomography (CT scanning), it is possible to ‘virtually’ cut through the specimens without damaging the fossil. CT scanning works in exactly the same way as getting an x-ray or CAT scan at a hospital: different materials in the fossil absorb differing amounts of x-rays. This can be used to build up a picture of the fossil's internal anatomy, opening a window into the evolution of the skull and brain.

Comparing these structures between key living and extinct ray-fins allows for major events to be put into context, shedding new light on innovations and evolutionary relationships. These findings also provide insight into the explosive diversification of ray-finned fishes some 350 million years ago.


This event will be virtual, with further information available soon. Registration is now open.

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Sam Giles, University of Birmingham

Sam Giles completed an MSci in Geology at the University of Bristol in 2011 and a D.Phil in Palaeobiology at the University of Oxford in 2015. She then spent two years as a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford.

She was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship in 2017, which she holds in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. She is also a visiting fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences, Oxford, and a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum, London.

Sam's main research interests are in the relationships and morphology of bony vertebrates. She uses non-destructive x-ray imaging (CT scanning) to unlock the external and internal anatomy of living and fossil vertebrates. She focuses on the early history of bony fishes, which account for 99% of all living vertebrates. Her work provides insight into the origins and evolutionary success of different vertebrate groups.


The lecture will start at 2.30pm BST.


This lecture will be virtual via Zoom. Further information will be provided to attendees prior to the event.


Please email with any enquiries.

Videos of past lectures can be viewed in our past meeting resources area.

If you wish to join our events mailing list, please email

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