2008 Colbert prize Winner

Tatsuya Hirasawa

Tatsuya Hirasawa

I was born in Tokyo, Japan. As long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with nature and animals, and I have wanted to be a scientist since my childhood. When I was around twelve years old, I read some books on dinosaurs, in particular a book written by Dr. Philip Currie, and at that time I made up my mind to be a vertebrate paleontologist. Therefore, I entered the University of Tokyo to study mainly biology and geology. In a course of biology, I learned the respiratory anatomy of birds, and I developed a great interest in its evolutionary origin.

From the third year of my undergraduate studies, I entered the Department of Earth and Planetary Science of University of Tokyo. This was also the time when I began to attend the SVP meetings and met Dr. Leon Claessens (Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA) for the first time. Since then, I have been corresponding to Dr. Claessens and he has provided valuable support to my study. In the forth year, I started to work on the geology of the Lower Cretaceous of Northeast Japan under the supervision of Dr. Tatsuo Oji (invertebrate paleontologist). In the field, I conducted taxonomic and taphonomic studies of plant fossils.

When I started the master's program at the University of Tokyo, I tried to begin studying ribcages of theropod dinosaurs. Due to vertebrate fossils being very rare in Japan, researchers face considerable difficulties in conducting such paleontological study of vertebrates. In the beginning, I investigated mainly the Tyrannosauridae at the museums in USA and Canada, because this taxon is represented by relatively many complete skeletons. In my master's thesis, I focused on the articulation between the vertebra and the rib (costovertebral articulation), as well as rib morphology. I have paid much attention on the costovertebral articulation to reconstruct ribcage kinematics in theropods.

Currently I am in the PhD program at the University of Tokyo, and I am still working on theropod ribcages. I aim to reveal the evolutionary process of the ribcage morphology (the topic of this poster), and to reconstruct ribcage kinematics and breathing mechanisms in theropods. I am struggling with dissections of birds and crocodilians, in addition to examinations of fossils. Moreover, I believe experiences of fieldwork will bring me new insights, thus I recently joined in the Japan-Mongolia Joint Paleontological Expedition to the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, in 2008.

The deeper I study, the more interested I am becoming in natural history. After my graduation (scheduled for 2010), I intend to work abroad (USA, Canada or Europe) as a postdoc, and to be active in the frontline of vertebrate paleontology research.

Finally, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Tatsuo Oji, Dr. Makoto Manabe (National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo), Dr. Leon Claessens and Dr. Patrick O'Connor (Ohio University, Athens). Without their assistance, I could not have conducted these very exciting studies.