My research integrates three primary domains:
Studying shapes of fossil bones and footprints to drive questions on how extinct animals once moved and interacted with their environment.
Collecting data from living animal relatives to explore foot-ground-body interactions in the context of real world conditions.
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.
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.