David Hone: the unexpected applications of palaeontology

Dr David Hone is a vertebrate palaeontologist working in Beijing on dinosaur behaviour. He also runs several websites devoted to science education.

Palaeontology can be an underappreciated science, but aside from general interest in extinct life (hey, dinosaurs are cool) it has several important aspects that are critical for other branches of science. If you want to look into the past beyond written records then the fossil record is your guide. Recent human history runs to a few thousand years, yet the fossil record runs to a few thousand million! Understanding the future of our planet is becoming increasingly important, but to see where we are going we must know how we got here - ancient ecologies and ecosystems can tell us how the Earth has changed over time and provides vital information for how organisms have responded to major environmental events such as climate change.

Finally, palaeontology can have some quite unexpected applications such as current research I am involved with, as palaeontologists and aeronautical engineers come together to examine the flight of the extinct flying reptiles, the pterosaurs, in an attempt to design new wings for future aircraft.

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