Research Vision and Driving Questions

My specific interest is in data currently studied in evolutionary biology: uncovering relationships among motion and anatomical form (morphology) of living alligators and birds to gain insight into how extinct dinosaurs and their relatives once moved. Visualizing and measuring 3-D skeletal movement in vivo is now possible with XROMM (X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology), an animation-based technique that my PhD advisor Stephen Gatesy and his colleagues at Brown University have developed. XROMM offers an opportunity to look inside a living animal, accurately measure skeletal movement in six degrees of freedom, and approach bone morphology from a new, kinematic (motion) data-based point of view. Distilling down kinematic patterns from the wealth of multidimensional time-varying data generated from this method is complex, even just for a single toe tip or a relatively simple joint between two bones. Patterns in the motion can be recognized by watching two animated bones interact, however, the high cognitive load on the user to retain and compare multiple, if not hundreds, or thousands of motions is a major hurdle in the exploration and analysis of form-function relationships in such datasets. This problem is further amplified when confronted with multiple animated bones and degrees of freedom–such as in the foot.

With increasing complexity of 3-D data in the study of living animal movement, how we see and interact with this data is critical to building intuition for spatio-temporal patterns. By embracing a creative and artistic approach, my vision is to address historically challenging questions about the evolution of animal movement through the process of designing visualizations that allow previously unseen form-function relationships to be drawn between living and extinct limbed animals.

This work has brought me to work with Daniel Keefe in the Interactive Visualization Lab at the University of Minnesota for my postdoc as a CRA/CCC/NSF Computing Innovation Fellow.

My current research focus is on the function and evolution of the Archosaur (birds, crocodiles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs) foot.

This research integrates three domains:

Paleontology

Studying shapes of fossil bones and footprints to drive questions on how extinct animals once moved and interacted with their environment.

Experimental Biology

Collecting data from living animal relatives to explore foot-ground-body interactions in the context of real world conditions.

Data Visualization

Developing new ways of exploring, analyzing, and communicating complex 3-D patterns of live animal data that permit connections to be drawn back to the fossil record.

This research is driven by the following questions:

  • What can functional patterns among the foot, body, and ground tell us about the relationship between animal movement and the shape of bones or footprints?
  • How are animations of multi-element regions of a skeleton most accurately reconstructed from in vivo data, using currently available research methods?
  • How can complex animal motion be visualized in a way that permits these patterns to be explored and analyzed in a way that directly relates to quantifiable information from the fossil record?
  • Can patterns of foot function in modern-day Archosaur relatives be traced throughout Archosaur foot evolution?

Recent News

Started Postdoc

Jan 2021: Began my postdoctoral position with Daniel Keefe in the Interactive Visualization Lab at the University of Minnesota.

Defended PhD

Dec 2020: Out in front of the Van Wickle Gates at Brown University post-defense. Thesis titled: “Internal and external foot kinematics at the animal-substrate interface”.

Selected as a CIFellow

July 2020: I am super excited to share that I have been selected as a 2020 Computing Innovation Fellow! This two-year postdoctoral fellowship will support me as I take a deeper dive into the world of scientific visualization with my foot data!

New publication

May 2020: New paper out showing Early Jurrasic dinosaurs and modern birds share a looping response to walking through soft substrates. Link