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Gaberiel Bever, Ph.D., begins excavation of an early Cretaceous specimen in the southern Gobi Desert of Gansu Province, China.
Students who explore anatomy research outside of class with NYIT’s fossil hunters learn tenets critical to science and medical practice: observation, generating and testing hypotheses, rigorous inquiry, data measurement, and accurate reporting.
“What we want to do is help them understand the organization of the human body,” says Assistant Professor Gaberiel Bever, Ph.D. “There are a lot of practical applications for basic evolutionary biology that can be conveyed to students through the research we do here.”
Recent student-faculty collaborations include dissections and examinations of giraffe eyes, rhinoceros skin, and lizard hearts. Others have focused on dental pathologies of otters, seals, and sea lions as well as structural studies of living and extinct snakes and the evolution of teeth in manatees.
NYIT students Timothy Backus and Shaun Hager worked with Associate Professor Matthew Mihlbachler, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Bennett Futterman, M.D., on a dissection of a rhinoceros brachial plexus, a network of nerves near the neck and shoulder. The students discovered that using the same dissection process and approach in a human cadaver can reveal parts of the nerves not seen in current dissection techniques. They are investigating how this approach can be used in future anatomy labs.
“Whenever we study the anatomy of animals, the discoveries we make can lead us to reexamine our understanding of some aspects of human anatomy,” says Associate Professor Jonathan Geisler, who will mentor first-year student Alexander Bulanov in a dolphin dissection this summer.
Bulanov, who is pursuing a surgical career, is interested in a particular nerve branch that may be important to a dolphin’s echolocation abilities. The self-described “fan of dissection” says the NYIT faculty’s wide-ranging knowledge as paleontologists is helpful to students learning basic structure and anatomical principles.
“They always have interesting tidbits,” he says, “and it helps integrate all of biology into medicine.”
Driving much of the faculty’s passion is the pursuit of new truths about old creatures. That’s why Assistant Professor Jack Conrad, Ph.D., the department’s expert in squamates (lizards and snakes), once found himself sleeping on the Arctic tundra for five weeks, searching for clues about the transition of fish to amphibious vertebrates in a place so far north that the compass read west. That was four years after he spent 92 consecutive days camping in the Sahara Desert, enduring temperatures of 100-plus degrees (the highest was 144 degrees), roving bandits, and a near-depletion of the expedition’s water supply. The team gathered 20 tons of material, including 10 new dinosaur species and a near-complete skeleton of the 40-foot-long Sarcosuchus imperator (“flesh crocodile”), the 90-million-year-old creature otherwise known as the “SuperCroc.”
“There’s always something new in paleontology that’s going to blow your mind,” says Conrad, who typically carries moleskin notebooks filled with sketches and field notes in his cargo pants. “If you like diversity and animals doing crazy things, you can find more of that in the fossil record than even in the modern world.”