What do scientists do at conferences? | Curator of Micropalaeontology

The micropalaeontology team attended the annual conference of The Micropalaeontological Society in Lille last week. My wife thinks that conferences are just an excuse for drinking, but I keep telling her that this is only partly true.

Micropalaeo team
The Micropaleontology team at the TMS conference dinner at Dubuisson Brewery

Read on to find out what we were doing in Lille, besides drinking Belgian beer of course!

Celebrating the work of key workers in the field

The Micropalaeontological Society Annual meeting is where awards are given out for outstanding contributions in the field of micropalaeontology. This year Prof Ellen Thomas of Yale University was presented with the highest accolade – the Brady Medal.

It was really great to hear her reference the Museum’s Brady collection in her acceptance presentation. Last year our own Tom Hill picked up the Alan Higgins Award for outstanding contributions to micropalaeontology for an early career worker.

Tom Hill with award
Tom Hill with the 2015 Alan Higgins Award for contributions to applied micropalaeontology presented last year at the University of Liverpool

Presenting our collections based research

A strong Museum showing over the past four years at the TMS annual meeting has mainly featured our work re-evaluating the former BP Micropalaeontology Collection.  This year Steve Stukins presented a poster on his Analysis of the Late Jurassic Ula Formation, Ula field of the North Sea.

Postdoc Lyndsey Fox spoke on the Palaeoenvironmental significance of benthic foraminiferal biofacies in the North Sea, and showed examples of several of the commercially commonly used but currently unnamed species present in our collections. She also presented a poster on her work on Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme Cruise 354.

Lyndsey Fox conference presentation
Lyndsey Fox presenting her work on Foraminifera from North Sea wells

Encouraging students

Conferences like these are ideal situations for PhD students to present their work in progress and practise their skills in communicating their science. Usually this means standing next to a poster and answering any questions that people might ask you. However, this conference was different and each poster author was required to present a one minute summary of their poster in front of all the conference participants.

PhD student Emanuela Piga did a great job of this when she presented her poster How Hot is hot? Palaeotemperatures in the Eocene indo-Pacific Warm Pool, another project based on the former BP Collection.

Emanuela Piga poster presentation
PhD student Emanuela Piga introducing her poster to the whole conference before the poster session


No conference is complete these days without a hashtag and live tweeting during talks. Following #TMSoc2016 allowed us to see who was tweeting at the conference and to follow a few more active micropalaeontology tweeters who were not able to be there. @NHM_Micropalaeo also got some new followers in the process.

Micropalaeontology Tweet
Popular Museum-related Tweet sent during the Micropalaeontological Society Conference


Breaks for coffee and discussions over the conference dinner are ideal scenarios to catch up on the latest work of your colleagues as well as to discuss forthcoming grant proposals. It’s difficult to show the impact of this in a few words other than to say that we’ve got some great ideas for future projects and collaborations. Our strong showing at the conference also helps to underline that the Museum is a great place to carry out collections-based research on micropalaeontology.

Advertising our collections

My own contribution was to present a talk on The Micropaleontology Collections at the Natural History Museum and their applications for research and consultancy. As we don’t have a permanent full-time micropalaeontology researcher here it’s really important to encourage as many external researchers as possible to use our collections. I’m always surprised that people don’t realise what an amazing resource we have and that it’s available for everybody to use.

Advertising our facilities

Postdoc Isabel Fenton presented an elegant nano-CT related poster on right coiled and left coiled (dextral and sinistral) specimens of Neogloboquadrina pachyderma. This is a really exciting study that highlights the use of the amazing CT scanning facilities here at the Museum to measure the volume of tiny specimens to answer questions about their growth and evolution.

Isobel Fenton presentation
Postdoc Isobel Fenton introducing her poster including some colourful images derived from nano-CT scans of foraminifera

Next year

The Micropalaeontological Society Annual Meeting will be held here at the Museum next year. Hopefully it will be just as successful as it was the last time we hosted it back in 2013.