Name: Heinrich Mallison
Education: Diplom-Geologe (roughly a Masters in Geosciences) from Tübingen University, Dr. rer. nat. (German version of a PhD; lead supervisor H.-U. Pfretzschner)
I am currently employed by the Museum für Naturkunde – Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity at the Humboldt University Berlin as a researcher in a project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. My wife Rita and I currently have three children; more to come, maybe? We live in a suburb of Berlin.
I cooked up my current research project in conversations with John R. Hutchinson and Vivian R. Allen (both at the Royal Veterinary College London back then, Viv has since moved to a research position in Jena). The project’s principal investigator is Daniela Schwarz-Wings, curator for fossil archosaurs at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
The main aim of the study is to find out how a number of factors influence the locomotion of sauropod dinosaurs in comparison to large mammals, namely the presence of a tail and thus of a large caudofemoralis muscle in sauropods, the influence of long vs. short forelimbs, and the influence of fully columnar (pillar-like) vs. flexed hind limbs. In order to find this out we build musculoskeletal models of the limbs of Diplodocus, Giraffatitan, Elephas (Indian elephant) and Giraffa (giraffe), to assess how the moment arms, lengths and sizes of muscles and tendons change. Also, we will use kinetic/dynamic modeling in a Computer Aided Engineering program to determine the forces and torques in the limbs during slow and rapid locomotion.
Overall, we hope to get a better understanding of how very large animals move, and what factors limit the size of animals using certain locomotion patterns.
In order to build good models we use digital skeletal mounts, so the project involves a lot of digitizing of bones, too.
Further research interests
As a direct result from my previous work on Plateosaurus and Kentrosaurus, where I used high-quality digital mounts, I am very much interested in digitizing techniques, including laser scanning, photogrammetry, and mechanical digitizing.
This combines with my growing curiosity regarding fossil tracks, because digital models of ichnofossils allow much easier handling and open up new study approaches. (Incidentally, they also are immune to erosion and damage, which is especially important for track fossils. Thus, there is also a conservation aspect of ichnofossil digitizing.)
Still on the agenda are the issues of “prosauropod” posture and locomotion, and how basal sauropodomorph locomotion in general evolved. I’m not done yet with good old Plateosaurus! Both this and my current project tie in with my interest in dinosaur tails, which is not limited to locomotion only (see my “Kentrosaurus defense” paper).
Aside from doing research, I am also interested in how to communicate scientific results to the general public, mostly in the context of museum exhibits. This has led to a cooperation with David Maas of brainpets, focusing on knowledge transfer between scientists and artists, as well as digital visual knowledge transfer (i.e., how to explain things using interactive and non-interactive digital images and videos).
If I find time I contribute to the online encyclopedia wikipedia, obviously concentrating on articles relevant to my field of work (e.g., Plateosaurus).
For the fully electronic and fully free palaeontological journal Palaeontologia Electronica I volunteer as a style editor, and I also run the PE blog.
I’m also interested in ancient Greek and Roman history. As in paleontology, my main interest is the “Big Picture”, but I am also fascinated by technological and everyday-life details.
Before we had our first child Rita and I were avid ballroom dancers. No time for that now, sadly, but I sure we’ll go back to it one day.