Welcome to our blog about life as a palaeontologist – or trainee palaeontologist – working on fossil colour.

10th of December 2018

The research team was in Stanford this week, at the SSRL facility.

3rd of December 2018

Valentina was working with the welder last week, preparing tiny gold capsules for maturation experiments!

26th of November 2018

Thomas is compiling his notes and photos from the research group’s recent expedition to China – see Maria, Valentina and Chris below!

19th of November 2018

Maria, Thomas, Tiffany, Valentina, Daniel and Paulina from the research group travelled to Lough Hyne in West Cork last week to shoot a promotional outreach geovideo. Paulina took this photo of the sea-water lake!

12th of November 2018

Colour patterns in various fossil true bugs (Hemiptera) from the Eocene of Messel pit, Germany – photos from James!

5th of November 2018

Valentina and Tiffany delivered an interactive workshop on palaeontology to teenagers at Dublin Zoo last week!

29th of October 2018

The atmospheric (but chilly) setting enjoyed by Maria, Valentina, Chris and Thomas from above our field site at ca. 1400 m in Hebei for the last few weeks!

22nd of October 2018

Reading, reading, reading… All good science starts with extensive reading! We recently welcomed Daniel to the research group – he will be working on a new PhD project about preservation processes at the German Geiseltal Fossil Konservat Lagerstätte.

15th of October 2018

Happy International Fossil Day! Look at this cute Dapalis macrurus specimen from the Oligocene Alpes de Haute-Provence locality, France!


8th of October 2018

Valentina was awarded the Outstanding Poster Award by Prof. Joe Wong at the SSRL User’s Conference in Stanford, California.

1st of October 2018

Thomas recently returned from the SVPCA2018 conference in Manchester, where he won the Best Talk Prize for his presentation of using taphonomic models to understanding the influence of palaeogeography in Lagerstätten.

24th of September 2018

Luke discussed some of his research with visitors to this year’s BEES Culture Night event. Members of the public were able to use microscopes to reveal the surface structures of different insects, for example, the brilliant white scales of the Cyphochilus sp. beetle. In addition, the use of circularly polarised light by certain beetles such as the green-coloured Chalcothea smaragdina was shown using 3D glasses, whilst ‘sellotape mosaics’ where used to illustrate both polarisation and interference colours.

Chris helping out UCC’s Geological Society at an event last week for this year’s new undergraduate intake where he talked about dinosaur footprints and fossil colour!

Maria also came across an interesting article on gender bias in the geosciences!

17th of September 2018

Maria and the PalAss crew speaking to the public about fossils at the Yorkshire Fossil Festival 2018 (and meeting the moon!)

A video of the festival can be accessed here:

10th of September 2018

The Annual Dinner, held in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, at the Annual Meeting of the EMAS – European Microbeam Analysis Society. Maria attended this meeting last week!

See also attended GeoBonn 2018 in Germany last week, during which she managed to give an interview to Deutschlandfunk Radio about her work! The report (in German!) is available here:

(click on the main image in the article to listen to Maria’s interview!)

3rd of September 2018

Maria’s work on dino feather colour was mentioned during the visit of Minister John Halligan (Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research & Development – with responsibility for the SFI) to the School of BEES today!

Maria, meanwhile, was actually delivering a plenary lecture at the GeoBonn 2018 meeting in Germany! (photo credit: Gregor Oleschinski)

20th of August 2018

This week, Tiffany is analysing data gathered at the particle accelerator in San Francisco to understand the chemistry of fossil feathers.

20th of August 2018

James and fellow neuropterologists looking for extant lacewings during a light-trapping session at the International Symposium of Neuropterology (Germany) earlier this summer. Photo credit: J. Jones.

13th of August 2018

“From Sketch to Reality”: Valentina is working on her next paper on the use of melanin to interpret fossil vertebrate soft tissue. She is using chemical mapping to reconstruct the anatomy of diverse fossil vertebrates (the top fossil is an early amphibian of 290 Ma and the bottom is a lizard of 180 Ma).

7th of August 2018

Luke has been preparing scale-bearing insect cuticle for cutting ultra-thin section ahead of TEM imaging.

30th of July 2018

Here are some of Chaofan’s specimens from her maturation experiments during her time here with us at UCC! Clockwise from top left: Chrysochroa corbetti, Colotis vesta, Hypolimnas monteironis, and some of her maturation samples.

23rd of July 2018

Geo-film in progress! Thanks ValeMedia!

16th of July 2018

Chris and James getting into the swing of their talks in the first Konservat-Lagerstätten session in the Grand Amphitheatre du Museum at the IPC5 meeting.

9th of July 2018

Valentina, Tiffany and Giliane at the start of 5th International Palaeontological Congress in Paris!

2nd of July 2018

Tiffany is using our custom-made maturation rig to simulate the high heat and pressure that fossil feathers experience while buried under sediment.

25th of June 2018

James and Chaofan with the other fossil Neuropterida researchers at the symposium last week.

18th of June 2018

James presenting his work on colour patterns in fossil Neuroptera at the 13th International Symposium of Neuropterology in Laufen, Germany.

11th of June 2018

Looking into the eyes of 65 million years-old insects preserved in amber!

5th of June 2018

Here is Valentina preparing samples (from the Triassic marine reptile Neusticosaurus peyeri) to bring to SSRL next week and performing a preliminary analysis of a Permian amphibian (from the Saar-Nahe deposit in Germany).

28th of May 2018

Thomas’ army of ladybirds have arrived! The wing cases (elytra) will be used in a temperature/pressure experiment to replicate the fossilisation process.

21st of May 2018

Luke and Maria painstakingly transferred fossil insect scales from cuticle onto special tape. The scales are now being analysed with X-rays using the synchrotron at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago in order to characterise their internal structure.

14th of May 2018

Here is Chris after setting up the lab last week for a visit from a group of transition year students!

8th of May 2018

Maria helping to man the PalAss stand at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival in the UK. Lots of exciting activities relating to fossil preservation and fossils of the Jurassic!

30th of April 2018

Last week, Tiffany presented a poster at London’s County Hall on her undergraduate research project titled ‘Intra-relationships of bullhead sharks: implications for the extinction of Paracestracion‘. She then received her Top Project Award at the House of Commons from the Royal Society of Biology.

23rd of April 2018

Our new postdoc Thomas is starting his project investigating how being buried and fossilised effects the pigments of beetles.

16th of April 2018

Maria, Giliane and Luke attended the Living Light 2018 conference in Cambridge last week!

9th of April 2018

A selection of fossil lacewings (Neuroptera) from the Jurassic of Daohugou, China, showing some of the diversity of wing patterns that James is analyzing as part of his project.

3rd of April 2018

Maria and Valentina are busy in Dingle, County Kerry at the moment, as they are providing the Easter field course to third year geology students. As part of the work, they were looking at the Devonian conglomerates, measuring clasts and analysing features to investigate different potential clastic spire regions.

26th of March 2018

Luke is at the Messel Research Station in Germany to hunt for scale-bearing specimens among the insect collection which comprises over 17,000 insects.

20th of March 2018

Giliane is starting a new project on insect eyes. She is currently looking at scarab beetle eyes (below), specifically for physiological systems dedicated to the detection of polarized light.

12th of March 2018

The “Girls into Geoscience – Ireland” event took place over the weekend. Maria co-hosted the day, with over 20 attendees, 5 volunteers from iCRAG and 4 invited speakers. For more information, please click here!

 5th of March 2018

Maria recently presented at the IGRM 2018 conference! Photo credit: Luke O’Reilly, School of BEES, University College Cork.

26th of February 2018

After analysing the fossils at SSRL, Tiffany returned some specimens to China!

19th of February 2018

Here are some of the samples (left to right: a wing, an amphibian and a fish) that Maria, Chris and Tiffany scanned at their recent trip to SSRL (also pictured!). Maria snapped a night-time photo of Chris and Tiffany at the facility too!

12th of February 2018

James is marking his new biscuit-based 3rd year phylogeny practical!

6th of February 2018

We had lots of help sorting our sizeable fossil collection from Nomah Sullivan last week – a Transition Year student who is interested in palaeobiology! Here is Naomi helping him out with the identification of some of the specimens.

29th of January 2018

Our research group represented UCC again at the iWish Conference in Cork City Hall last week, with our Walk Like A Dinosaur exhibit and a variety of fossils!

22nd of January 2018

Valentina, Tiffany (half-hidden!) and Maria loading up a feathered dinosaur for analysis at the new low-Z beamline at SSRL last week. Very exciting!

15th of January 2018

Chris and Luke represented UCC at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, by hosting our Walk Like A Dinosaur stall. Sensors were used to estimate visitors’ speed whilst walking / running, and we calculated an equivalent species of dinosaur on an individual basis. The team gave people an opportunity to see how different substrates affect the fidelity of dinosaur footprints. There were also theropod and amphibian footprints, a Microraptor cast, trilobite and fish fossils, and a huge bone from a mammoth!

8th of January 2018

An impressive Grallator footprint from the early Jurassic of Massachusetts!

18th of December 2017

The fossil colour research team attended the Friends of the Rotten workshop (as part of the Palaeontological Association’s 2017 Annual Meeting) at Imperial College London last weekend, where Tiffany gave a talk on the origins of mouldic melanosomes.

11th of December 2017

Here are Tim and Maria doing some elemental mapping, whilst Chris is looking at lamprey eyes on the SEM.

4th of December 2017

Luke’s search for preserved structural colour in the insect fossil record continues – he has recently been able to examine a range of insect fossils from the Crato formation under the light microscope.

27th of November 2017

James has started analysis of the images of the Chinese Jurassic Neuroptera (lacewings).

20th of November 2017

Giliane went to a bog to collect water and sediment (and inopportune crustaceans) for a pilot mineralization experiment.

13th of November 2017

Members of the Palaeo group and undergrad volunteers from the School of BEES putting on a good show at Cork Science Festival!

6th of November 2017

Here is Valentina in the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. She is looking for fossils with evidence of soft tissues!

2nd of November 2017

Graduating at the top of her class, Tiffany attended her official graduation ceremony this week in Worcester, UK. She held up the ceremony as she received five awards from the University of Worcester and the Royal Society of Biology! Congratulations Tiffany!

23rd of October 2017

Maria, Chris and Tiffany were at Diamond Light Source, a synchrotron facility in Oxfordshire last week. Here they are running some samples!

16th of October 2017

Naomi has been procuring some new fossils for outreach and research purposes – see some examples below!

Top row (L-R): Permian reptile fossil footprints from France; Jurassic Saccocoma tenella from Solnhofen (Germany)

Bottom row (L-R): Jurassic disarticulated echinoids from France; Lower Jurassic Acanthochirana from France

9th of October 2017

Luke has been working with Professor Bo Wang at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences to identify the potential for structural colours in Jurassic lepidopteran fossils. Their study aims to provide new insights into the evolution of colour producing nanostructures as well as scale morphology in insects.

2nd of October 2017

A small selection of fossil insect wings of the order Neuroptera (lacewings) from the Jurassic of China. These wings, along with hundreds more, will be used by James in a morphometric analysis. The analysis will compare the different types of colour patterns preserved on the wings of the neuropteran fauna from the Jurassic of Daohugou, China.

25th of September 2017

Fresh from Culture Night, Maria jetted off to sunny Scarborough where she joined the PalAss team at the Annual Yorkshire Fossil Festival. As well as helping visitors to the PalAss stand make DIY fossil imprints and play the fossilization game, she took part in the Festival’s Soapbox Science event, armed with a trusty trilobite sidekick.

18th of September 2017

Chemical training in the lab. Giliane has set up a (safe) experiment for us to test whether acid should be placed into water, or should water be placed into acid. We ensured it was the correct way (acid into water!) before Tiffany tried it out!

11th of September 2017

Landmarks and Lifeforms: Linking science and art at the Limerick City Gallery of Art

Maria participated in a panel discussion at the opening of the new exhibition ‘Landmarks and Lifeforms’ by Irish artists Frieda Meaney and Danny Osbourne, chaired by Newstalk’s Éanna Ní Lamhna. The exhibition features prints and installations by Frieda focusing on evolution, change, and transformation, and lava sculptures and vessels by Danny. The panel discussion was very interactive, with lots of participation by the audience, and ranged in topic from origins of the Earth, climate change, and dinosaur evolution to creativity and the common methodical process that lies at the foundation of all scientific and artistic inquiry.

4th of September 2017

Valentina was at the ToF-SIMS facility in Manchester, to learn how to use the instrument as well as analyzing some melanin samples. She also visited Manchester Museum!

28th of August 2017

Tiffany, our new PhD student, is extracting feathers from a common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (that was found dead!) for oxidation and decay experiments.

21st of August 2017

This is a histological section through a cuttlefish (Sepia officianalis) ink sack, the black-stained cells can be easily identified. Although it has been known for millennia that cuttlefish and other cephalopods produce ink, exactly how they produce melanin in their tissues is poorly known. Tim is currently looking into how and where melanosomes are produced in cephalopod tissue.

14th of August 2017

Posers with posters in Paris! Nidia, Valentina and Chris at Goldschmidt 2017.

7th of August 2017

Adrian has been splitting mudstones from the Daohugou Lagerstätte: pictured here are an abundance of conchostracans as well as some very nicely preserved plant material.

31st of July 2017

Tim’s current research aims to elucidate the nature and distribution of pigments in cephalopod molluscs. Using controlled sets of decay experiments, he is testing the robustness of these pigments to fossilization and what the preservation of these pigments could tell us about extinct taxa.

24th of July 2017

During a visit to his old lab in the physics department at the University of Exeter, Luke performed optical measurements to determine the angle-dependency of the circularly polarised reflectance from some of Giliane’s beetles.

17th of July 2017

Chris is dissecting the eye of a lamprey under the microscope, by separating the iris at the front of the eye from the choroid at the back. The long strand coming from the eye (as seen on the screen) is the lamprey’s optic nerve.

10th of July 2017

James on a visit to Beijing, China (Capital Normal University), searching the collections and imaging fossil insects with preserved colour patterns from the Middle Jurassic, Daohugou Lagerstätte.

3rd of July 2017

Giliane went to Dublin for a demo of a new high-spec, large-chamber EDS-based micro-XRF system, and tested the accuracy of the chemical analysis on a fossil cephalopod.

26th of June 2017

Some of the research group were recently in China doing fieldwork. Here is Valentina with the mountains of Inner Mongolia, and also acting as a human scale surrounded by an alternation of siltstone-mudstone and sandstone, typical of an alluvial fan deposit (age: Late Jurassic).

19th of June 2017

Nick captured this lovely shot of some Greek stratification!

12th of June 2017

The Chair of Geology, Prof. Andy Wheeler, at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences’ recent Research Day at the new MaREI Centre, speaking about the vast range of work Maria and her team accomplish at the School!

6th of June 2017

Nidia has been doing ladybird puzzles after 900 hours of tumbling!

29th of May 2017

Maria is trying out our new ultramicrotome for the first time!

22nd of May 2017

Maria, Chris and Giliane travelled to the University of Manchester recently to use the ChemiSTEM facility.

15th of May 2017

Luke has been surveying fossil beetle samples under the microscope. The goal is to find evidence for both the preservation of lepidote structures and iridescent colour indicating the presence of underlying photonic crystal morphologies.


8th of May 2017

James visiting the collections at the research station at Messel, Germany. Looking for fossil insects with preserved colour patterns.

2nd of May 2017

Maria delivering an interactive lecture to local schools as part of the Cork Lifelong Learning Festival 2017.

24th of April 2017

Angular-dependent reflection experimental setup used by Giliane for the characterization of iridescent beetles.

17th of April 2017

Valentina was recently in Dingle, Co Kerry on a fieldtrip with Maria’s second year students, and came across some Silurian trace fossil burrows and desiccation cracks.

10th of April 2017

Naomi is helping to prepare Valentina’s samples before they are sent for analysis!

3rd of April 2017

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?

These are the eyes of Octopus vulgaris!

27th of March 2017

Some exciting results on Nidia’s chemical analyses!

20th of March 2017

Valentina and Chris are looking exceptionally happy during dissections!

13th of March 2017

Chris has been learning how to use the TEM.

6th of March 2017

Valentina got an honourable mention for her talk at the IGRM!

27th of February 2017

Naomi and Giliane are performing sulfurization experiments.

20th of February 2017

Here is another procedure to stain histology sections – this one is automatic!

13th of February 2017

Valentina’s histology samples are undergoing the Fontana-Masson staining procedure to prepare the sections.

She will then analyse them to calculate the amount of melanin within each sample!

6th of February 2017

Maria was invited to give the first Quercus lecture of 2017, titled ‘Beyond the lab: making science accessible to all’. UCC’s Quercus students are recognised as some of the most talented in the university; the the Quercus Talented Students’ Programme aims to support and promote excellence in academia, sport, creative and performing arts, active citizenship and innovation/entrepreneurship. The goal of the Quercus lecture series is to inspire students, and staff, by presenting thought-provoking lectures by some of UCC’s most inspiring academics. Please see here for a video of the talk. Photo credit: Dr Benjamin Gearey, Department of Archaeology, University College Cork.

30th of January 2017

Saoirse has been studying the morphology of fossilized feathers with the aid of some of the artificially fossilized feathers that she has created in the lab.

23rd of January 2017

Nidia’s first tumbling experiments are done, all dried up and ready to analyse. Only a *few* hours of picking through sediment ahead!

16th of January 2017

Some of the palaeontology research group went to the BT Young Scientist competition during the weekend, where we displayed our own exhibit “Walk Like A Dinosaur”. This project was created by palaeontologists in UCC’s School of BEES, UCC’s School of Engineering and UCC’s Department of Computer Science. A sensor was attached to the legs of visitors to our stand, which was used to estimate their speed whilst walking / running, and what species of dinosaur this was equivalent to! Each member of the public that participated received a personalized talk about their species. We also brought along some trilobite fossils, an ammonite fossil, a fossilized Megalodon tooth and a cast of Microraptor!

9th of January 2017

Chris is examining fossils from the Mazon Creek lagerstätte, Illinois.

3rd of January 2017

Giliane is cutting ultra-thin sections of dinosaur samples with an ultramicrotome for TEM observation!


19th of December 2016

The research group attended the Palaeontological Association’s Annual Meeting in Lyon last week.

maria nidia chris

12th of December 2016

Valentina was recently in Darmstadt (Germany), analysing Cenozoic fossils, including a reptile from the Messel Biota.



5th of December 2016

Saoirse has been busy examining the microstructures of modern feathers under the light microscope to help her gain an understanding of prehistoric feathers for her thesis.


28th of November 2016

Here are the members of the fossil colour team along with various undergraduate and postgraduate volunteers talking about insects, dinosaurs and more at the Cork Science Exhibition in Blackpool!


21st of November 2016

Nidia is in the middle of tumbling experiments! This type of procedure is used to simulate the transportation of sediment and biological matter (gravel and insect cuticle, in this instance) by water in a lake-shore environment.


14th of November 2016

Our research group was joined by a TV crew in the lab today! They were recording an upcoming documentary on prominent Irish female scientists.


7th of November 2016

Chris is dissecting a thornback ray for melanin extraction!


1st of November 2016

Here is our new technical research assistant Giliane Odin looking at the elytra of beetles through a spectrophotometer in order to characterize colours!


24th of October 2016

Our new postdoc James Jepson studying images of Jurassic fossil insects from Daohugou, China, looking at the different colour patterns preserved on their wings.


17th of October 2016

Valentina was in the Natural History Museum of London to take samples from reptile and amphibian fossils, and managed to get a photo with a stegosaur on the way!


10th of October 2016

A great afternoon visit to Cork University Hospital for outreach in the children’s ward!


3rd of October 2016

Last week Maria McNamara and PhD student Nidia Álvarez Armada presented papers at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver, Colorado – see links below:



26th of September 2016

Here is Chris at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto having fun in the fossil vertebrate collections!


23rd of September 2016

“After all this waiting, this is what it must feel like to have a baby” – Nidia said at the moment of taking her samples out after 6 months of decay!


19th of September 2016

Naomi is doing lots of SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) work this week on her pollen samples!


12th of September 2016

Chris is looking happy with his recent delivery of Ciona larvae! Ciona is a genus of sea squirt, and the darkened area of the test tube contains 300 of the larvae!


5th of September 2016

Plenty of chemicals and calculations today in our lab, as Odhrán is currently undertaking enzymatic extraction of melanin experiments.


29th of August 2016

Time for Valentina to analyze her data! Let’s discover awesome things!


22nd of August 2016

72 feathers later, Saoirse is about to conduct her final experiment to examine what kind of effects simulating preservation might have on modern feathers.



16th of August 2016

Odhrán (another new intern!) has been busy preparing his decay experiment. It is finally going in!


9th of August 2016

Our new research intern Amy Muir has been busy working on several taphonomic experiments in the lab – here she is decanting solutions under a nitrogen atmosphere.


2nd of August 2016

Naomi has lots of samples to get through! The murky liquid being used is simulated peat bog water, in order to see its effect(s) on different pollen species over time.



26th of July 2016

Chris is preparing to dissect and then extract melanin from amphioxus, a basal chordate thought to be similar in appearance to some of our earliest ancestors. Amphioxus only has the pigment melanin in its ‘eye spot’, a light sensing organ near to its mouth.



18th of July 2016

“Another brick in the wall” for Valentina in the histology lab!


12th of July 2016

After twenty-four hours of waiting, Saoirse finally has removed her feather samples from the furnace. She is very eager to see the results of her first of many experiments.


8th of July 2016

Nidia is very excited with the synchrotron data of her Parnassius apollonius!


4th of July 2016

One of our undergraduates, Vitor, is preparing resin for the analysis of cephalopod specimens.


28th of June 2016

Here is our new post doc Chris Rogers helping to set up our new micro welder in the lab.


21st of June 2016

Maria is hard at work welding gold capsules for maturation experiments.



13th of June 2016

Valentina is surrounded by new technology!

5th of June 2016

Here’s Valentina getting to grips with her sample analyses in San Francisco!


23rd of May 2016

Nidia was presenting during the weekend at Progressive Palaeontology 2016, a conference hosted by Oxford University Natural History Museum.


16th of May 2016

Here we are in action loading samples at beamline 11-2 at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource facility in California.




3rd of May 2016

What’s cooking up in Valentina’s lab? Stay tuned for the next installment!


26th of April 2016

Yesterday we were at Manchester University running some samples on the ToF-SIMS with our colleague Nick Lockyer. Here you can see Nick loading up the samples. Exciting stuff!


22th of April 2016

Phew! Maria is just back from the European Geosciences Congress at Vienna, where she presented a poster with colleague Daniel Field of Yale University, titled ‘Maturation experiments reveal bias in the fossil record of feathers’. More interesting results to follow!