2006 Student Poster Prize Recipient
Laura B. Porro
I was born in Chicago, IL and grew up in the suburb of Schiller Park. As a child, science was my favorite subject and I was always fascinated by the natural world. After graduating from East Leyden High School, I went on to study Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The first class I walked into, however, was an introductory geology course taught by Roy Plotnick. I understood for the first time how the physical earth, its climate, landscapes, and living creatures have all changed through time and influenced each other. Most importantly, it rekindled a passion for dinosaurs and other extinct animals.
I started a second major in Earth and Environmental Sciences and undertook research
projects in both degrees, funded in part by a Goldwater Scholarship in 2003. Much of my undegraduate work focused on invertebrates. I looked at the effects of collembolan arthropods on forest communities and using algal mats (modern stromatolites) to track nutrient flow in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The city of Chicago also presented me with opportunities outside UIC, such as a summer internship and further volunteer work at the Field Museum.
During my fourth year, I read a paper in Nature by Emily Rayfield using finite-element analysis (FEA) to study skull function in Allosaurus. I was intrigued by the innovative use of this engineering technique to objectively study the biomechanics of extinct animals with no living analogues. I was fortunate to receive a Gates Cambridge Scholarship in 2004, allowing me to work at the University of Cambridge with my supervisors, David Norman ( Cambridge) and Emily Rayfield ( Bristol). My PhD project involves using FEA as well as skull and muscle reconstructions, suture analysis and tooth wear to understand feeding in the enigmatic herbivorous dinosaur Heterodontosaurus as well as other primitive ornithischians. By understanding the jaw mechanism and feeding strategies of these early herbivores, I hope to shed light on the origin and early evolution of herbivory in Ornithischia and the later success of this diverse group of dinosaurs.
I would like to thank my supervisors, Emily Rayfield and David Norman, and my colleagues at Cambridge for helpful editorial advice on the poster as well Sunrise Printing Inc. for a superb printing job.
Photo courtesy of Laura B. Porro.