Lab members & collaborators

Lab members

Dr. Michael Pittman – Principal investigator

I’m a multi-disciplinary vertebrate palaeontologist from HK. I earned a BSc in geology from UCL in 2006 before progressing to an MSc in geoscience (palaeobiology) in 2007. I pursued a PhD on ‘the evolution and biomechanics of dinosaurian tails’ with Profs. Paul Upchurch and John R Hutchinson (RVC) completing in 2012.

My primary research interests are the evolution of dinosaurs (particularly of theropods and avian origins), laser-based fossil imaging and the evolutionary biomechanics of vertebrates (especially of dinosaurs). Much of my work focuses on the study of Chinese dinosaurs with Prof. Xu Xing (IVPP, Beijing), including fossils we discovered in the Gobi desert as part of the Inner Mongolia Research Project (e.g. Linheraptor and Linhenykus) as well as other fossils such as Jianianhualong and Anchiornis.

I lead the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory which includes two current and two incoming PhD students (4), a number of undergraduate and Master’s students as well as an international group of research associates. I produced and instruct HKU’s free online course Dinosaur Ecosystems.


Telephone: (+852) 3917 7840 (Office), (+852) 5625 5019 (Mobile)
Location: Hui Oi Chow 304, HKU
Web: ResearchGate/Google Scholar/ORCiD/Twitter – @Palaeopittman

Prof. Xing Xu – Honorary HKU Professor & Co-I

I am a dinosaur palaeontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing (IVPP). I received my BSc in Geology from Peking University and pursued an MSc and PhD in Palaeontology at the IVPP. I completed my thesis on ‘Deinonychosaurian fossils from the Jehol Group of western Liaoning and the coelurosaurian evolution’ in 2002. I am the co-instructor of free HKU online course Dinosaur Ecosystems.

Telephone: (+852) 010-88369196 (Office)
Location: IVPP, 142 Xizhimenwai Street, Beijing, 100044
Web: ResearchGate/Google Scholar

Arindam Roy – PhD student

I received my first integrated Master’s degree in Biotechnology at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata [Calcutta], India (2014). I earned my second Master’s degree in Palaeobiology from the University of Bristol, United Kingdom (2016).

I began working on the fossilisation of the pigment melanin at Bristol with Dr. Jakob Vinther. Melanin – the biological pigment that imparts colour to many organisms and is present in our own hair and eyes – has the exceptional ability to preserve over geological time scales and has become the centre of an exciting and cutting-edge field of palaeontological research. Melanosomes, the small sub-cellular vesicles that store the pigment melanin, have become key to the reconstruction of ancient colouration in exceptionally preserved fossil feathers in various non-avialan dinosaurs and early birds. My Master’s dissertation at the University of Bristol titled ‘To be palaeo-melanosomes, or not to be?’ dealt with the validation of the ‘melanosome identity’ of fossil microbodies. The interpretation of microbodies in fossils as melanosomes has been criticised based on the morphological resemblance of these structures to rod-shaped and spherical bacteria, which they were originally interpreted as. My research presented strong evidence that supports the ’melanosome hypothesis’.

While the morphological diversity of modern and fossil avian feather melanosomes has been examined in detail, the evolution and diversity of melanosomes in the skin covering (integument) more generally and in primitive feather-like structures of non-avialan dinosaurs and related taxa remains acutely understudied. My current research as a Hong Kong PhD Fellow 2017/2018 focuses on the preservation and evolutionary history of melanin-based colouration in dinosaurs and their close-relatives.

Telephone: (+852) 3917 7844 (Office), (+852) 66549715 (Mobile)
Location: Hui Oi Chow 301, HKU
Web: ResearchGate / ORCiD / Twitter – @Indosuchus
Teaching: I am a TA for HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems. I am also a TA for the undergraduate course EASC1401 Blue Planet and was previously one for EASC2406 Geochemistry.

Raymond Fong – PhD student

I completed a Master’s degree at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada in 2017.

My research in Canada was focused on dental histology under the supervision of Prof. Robert Reisz. This is a relatively new area of palaeontological research that examines the microanatomy of teeth by creating thin sections from fossils for examination and interpretation. The data collected can help inform us on the function and evolution of dentition in extinct groups. I have examined closely the dental histology of the early theropod dinosaur Coelophysis and the reptile like mammal Lystrosaurus. In Coelophysis I was able to establish the ancestral dental condition in dinosaurs, including the types of tissues present, how their teeth replaced and how they are implanted inside the jaws. In Lystrosaurus I determined that based on their dental histology they possessed permanent tusks rather than replacing their teeth periodically.

Many groups of dinosaurs remain under sampled for dental histology and my current research is focused on the dental histology of paravians. My goal is to track how dinosaur dentition has changed through time from the ancestral condition and what is the significance of these evolutionary changes.

Telephone: (+852) 3917 7844 (Office), (+852) 5432 0645 (Mobile)
Location: Hui Oi Chow 301, HKU
Web: Facebook / Twitter – @RKMF6
Teaching: I am a TA for HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems. I also lead guided tours of the Stephen Hui Geological Museum. I was the TA for the Master of Science in Applied Geosciences courses GEOS 7010 (Geology Principles) and GEOS 8207 (Global Climate).
Publications: Fong, R.K.M.; LeBlanc, A.R.; Berman, D.S.; Reisz, R.R. (2016). Dental histology of Coelophysis bauri and the evolution of tooth attachment tissues in early dinosaurs. Journal of Morphology. 277: 914-924.

Fion Waisum Ma – PhD student

University of Birmingham; co-supervised with Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager and Prof. Richard Butler

I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Hong Kong in 2013, double-majoring in Geology and Ecology and Biodiversity. At HKU, I was part of the VPL and completed two summer research fellowships with Dr. Michael Pittman and Prof. Xing Xu (IVPP). One of the projects involved the first in-depth description of the Gigantoraptor mandible, which provided new insights into the evolution of oviraptorosaur jaws. With growing interest in these amazing animals, I completed a Palaeontology and Geobiology MRes at the University of Edinburgh in 2018. I studied the variation patterns of oviraptorosaur skull form and function under the supervision of Dr Stephen Brusatte and Prof. Junchang Lü (Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences). In particular, I investigated whether feeding-related niche partitioning likely existed among the Ganzhou oviraptorid fauna in the Nanxiong Formation of southern China, which is one of the most diverse oviraptorid faunas in the world.

Currently, I am doing a Palaeobiology PhD at the University of Birmingham with Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager, Dr. Michael Pittman and Prof. Richard Butler. I will use 3D modelling techniques to further explore the functional morphology of oviraptorosaurs.

Telephone: (+44) 07907995477
Location: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
Web: ORCiDTwitter – @FionMaWS /
Teaching: I am a TA for HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Publications: Ma, W., Wang, J.Y., Pittman, M., Tan, Q. W., Tan, L., Guo, B. & Xu, X. 2017. Functional anatomy of a giant toothless mandible from a bird-like dinosaur: Gigantoraptor and the evolution of the oviraptorosaurian jaw. Scientific Reports, 7(1): 16247.

Mr. Luke Meade – PhD student

I am returning to the University of Birmingham for a PhD following a MSci degree in Palaeobiology and Palaeoenvironments. Throughout my four years of undergraduate study I was able to undertake a wide range of palaeontological research. I led a study and re-description of a collection of scientifically important early tetrapod footprints from the Carboniferous of the Midlands, using photogrammetry to create 3D models of footprints for analysis. The project generated new insights into how increasing aridity drove the rise of reptiles and was published in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ (Meade et al. 2016). I have also had the opportunity to explore palaeobotany in a project that assessed the anatomy of early Carboniferous seeds using 3D models based on tomographic data from historic serial peel slides. My fourth-year master’s project focused on reconstructing late Permian dicynodont skulls, preserved within ironstone nodules, from CT scans in order make detailed anatomical descriptions of the material and generate endocasts of the braincase.

My PhD project focuses on oviraptorosaur cranial functional morphology. Through micro-CT scanning, 3D reconstruction, and biomechanical modelling I aim to better understand feeding behaviour within the group and examine how the form and function of the cranium and lower jaw may have changed throughout the evolutionary history of Oviraptorosauria. The project is supervised by Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager, Prof. Richard Butler and Dr. Michael Pittman.

Location: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
Web: Twitter – @LukeEMeade
Teaching: I will be a TA in palaeontology practicals for the University of Birmingham ‘Earth History and Life’ undergraduate module.
Publications: Meade, L.E., Jones, A.S., Butler, R.J. 2016. A revision of tetrapod footprints from the late Carboniferous of the West Midlands, UK. PeerJ, 4: e2718

Current volunteers

Ms. Crystal Wong (volunteer), Mr. Dino Dobrowski (volunteer), Mr. Chun Fai Lo (volunteer)

Past students

Mr. Edison Tse (MSc and UG), Ms. Waisum Ma Fion (UG), Mr. Jefferson Hsieh (UG), Mr. Anyang Ding (UG)


As part of the integrative approach to our work, we collaborate with a range of international experts from different fields. Here is a selection of collaborators from our current research projects:

Prof. Xing Xu (IVPP) – avian and flight origins; fieldwork in China; HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems (HKU Honorary Professor); secondary supervisor of VPL PhD students Arindam Roy & Raymond Fong

Mr. Thomas G. Kaye (Foundation for Scientific Advancement) – laser-Stimulated Fluorescence imaging; actuopalaeontological experiments; secondary supervisor of VPL PhD students Arindam Roy and Raymond Fong.

Prof. Xiaoli Wang (Linyi University)  – avian and flight origins

Prof. Xiaoteng Zheng (Shandong Tianyu Museum)

Dr. Gerald Mayr (Senckenberg Institute Frankfurt) – avian and flight origins

Prof. Pablo A. Goloboff (Fundación Miguel Lillo) – phylogenetic analysis and methods

Dr. Diego Pol (Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, Trelew) – phylogenetic methods

Dr. Michael Habib (USC) – avian and flight origins; pterosaur flight

Dr. T. Alexander Dececchi (U of Pittsburgh Johnstown) – avian and flight origins

Dr. Aaron LeBlanc (U of Alberta) – dinosaur dental histology

Prof. Robert Reisz (U Toronto Mississauga) – dinosaur dental histology

Dr. Jakob Vinther (U of Bristol) – palaeocolour in dinosaurs


Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager & Prof. Richard Butler (U of Birmingham) – oviraptorosaur skull biomechanics

Prof. Shundong Bi (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) – early mammal evolution; fieldwork in China

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