Dr. Michael Pittman – Principal investigator

I’m a multi-disciplinary vertebrate palaeontologist from Hong Kong. Over the last 8 years I have been a Research Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong leading the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory. 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 interest is the evolution of dinosaurs, particularly the exciting dinosaur-bird transition and the origin of flight. My research has filled significant gaps in our understanding of early flight development and has uncovered pertinent voids that I actively pursue and will continue to investigate in the longer term. I continue to support my work with integrated study approaches involving modern anatomical imaging, chemical analysis, biomechanical modelling, developmental biology and phylogenetic reconstruction. Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF) is a laser-based imaging technique that I co-developed to reveal other hidden anatomy preserved in fossils.

I have produced 35 peer-reviewed publications and the edited volume Pennaraptoran Theropod Dinosaurs: Past Progress and New Frontiers and achieved 788 citations and a h-index score of 16. I have published research in journals such as Systematic Biology, Biological Reviews, PNAS, Nature Ecology & Evolution, Science Bulletin, Nature Communications and Current Biology. My work has continuously received international media coverage including from the BBC and National Geographic. 

I support my work through active collaborations with a range of leading international experts. These include Prof. Xu Xing (IVPP, Beijing), Prof. Xiaoli Wang (Linyi University, Linyi) and Prof. Xiaoting Zheng (Tianyu Museum, Pingyi). My fieldwork in the Chinese Gobi desert led to the discovery of the dromaeosaurid Linheraptor and the alvarezsaurid Linhenykus. I currently have a fieldwork project in Patagonia, Argentina with Dr. Diego Pol (MEF, Argentina).

I have a strong teaching background recognised by an HE Advance Fellowship that draws on experience teaching undergraduate to PhD level courses and the award-winning MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems. I also bring experience in university leadership and management as the Assistant Dean for E-Learning in the Faculty of Science, the Chairman of the departmental Outreach Committee and the departmental Advisory Board Secretary.

Email: mpittman@hku.hk
Telephone: (+852) 5625 5019 (Mobile); (+852) 3917 7840 (Office)
Location: Hui Oi Chow 304, HKU
Web: ResearchGate/Google Scholar/ORCiD/Twitter – @Palaeopittman/Dinosaur Ecosystems MOOC

Arindam Roy – PhD student
Amniote palaeocolour reconstruction (co-supervisors: Prof. Xing Xu; Mr. Thomas G Kaye)

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

Arindam 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. Arindam’s 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. His 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. Arindam’s 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.

Email: arindam.roy@connect.hku.hk
Telephone: (+852) 66549715
Location: Hui Oi Chow 302, HKU
Web: ResearchGate / ORCiD / Twitter – @Indosuchus
Teaching: TA for HKU MOOC and campus course Dinosaur Ecosystems; undergraduate course EASC3402 Petrology.
Roy, A., Pittman, M., Saitta, E.T., Kaye, T.G. and Xu, X. (2020). Recent advances in amniote palaeocolour reconstruction and a framework for future research. Biological Reviews, 95: 22-50. https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12552.
Roy, A., Rogers, C.S., Clements, T., Pittman, M., Habimana, O., Martin, P. & Vinther, J. Chapter 9. Fossil microbodies are melanosomes: evaluating and rejecting the ‘fossilised decay-associated microbes’ hypothesis. In: Pennaraptoran Theropod Dinosaurs. Pittman, M. & Xu, X. (eds.). Bulletin of AMNH, 440: 251-276.

Fion Waisum Ma – co-supervised U of Birmingham PhD student
Functional morphology of oviraptorosaur jaws using 3D modelling techniques (Primary supervisor: Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager; Co-supervisor: Prof. Richard Butler)

Fion received her undergraduate degree at the University of Hong Kong in 2013, double-majoring in Geology and Ecology and Biodiversity. At HKU, she was part of the VPL and completed two summer research fellowships with myself 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, Fion completed a Palaeontology and Geobiology MRes at the University of Edinburgh in 2018. She studied the variation patterns of oviraptorosaur skull form and function under the supervision of Dr Stephen Brusatte and the late Prof. Junchang Lü (formerly of the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences). In particular, Fion 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.

Email: fionma12@connect.hku.hk
Telephone: (+44) 07907995477
Location: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
Web: ORCiDTwitter – @FionMaWS
Teaching: TA for HKU MOOC and campus course Dinosaur Ecosystems.
Select 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.
Pittman, M., O’Connor, J., Field, D.J., Turner, A.H., Ma, W.S., Makovicky, P. & Xu, X. Chapter 1. Pennaraptoran systematics. In: Pennaraptoran Theropod Dinosaurs. Pittman, M. & Xu, X. (eds.). Bulletin of AMNH, 440: 7-36.
Ma, W.S., Pittman, M., Lautenschlager, S., Meade, L.E. & Xu, X. Chapter 8. Functional morphology of the oviraptorosaurian and scansoriopterygid skull. In: Pennaraptoran Theropod Dinosaurs. Pittman, M. & Xu, X. (eds.). Bulletin of AMNH, 440: 229-250.

Mr. Luke Meade – co-supervised U of Birmingham PhD student
Functional morphology of oviraptorosaur jaws using 3D modelling techniques
(primary supervisor: Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager; co-supervisor: Prof. Richard Butler)

Luke is returning to the University of Birmingham for a PhD following a MSci degree in Palaeobiology and Palaeoenvironments. Throughout his four years of undergraduate study Luke was able to undertake a wide range of palaeontological research. He led a study and re-description of a collection of scientifically important early tetrapod footprints from the Carboniferous of the Midlands (UK), 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). Luke has 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. Luke’s 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.

Email: lem439@student.bham.ac.uk
Location: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
Web: Twitter – @LukeEMeade
Teaching: TA for HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems; University of Birmingham undergraduate course Earth History and Life.
Select Publications:
Ma, W.S., Pittman, M., Lautenschlager, S., Meade, L.E. & Xu, X. Chapter 8. Functional morphology of the oviraptorosaurian and scansoriopterygid skull. In: Pennaraptoran Theropod Dinosaurs. Pittman, M. & Xu, X. (eds.). Bulletin of AMNH, 440: 229-250.

Case V. Miller – PhD student
Enantiornithine bird diet (co-supervisors: Dr. Jen Bright; Mr. Thomas G Kaye; Prof. Xiaoli Wang)

Case received an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida with a double major in Zoology and Geology in 2018. Before beginning his postgraduate studies, he completed a year of work study in the Vertebrate Palaeontology section of Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. After four years of experience with the preparation and description of fossils (three years under Jonathan Bloch and one year under Matthew Lamanna), Case wanted to dig deeper at HKU.

While we may never be able to turn long-dead bones into a living animal, modern technology does allow us to do the next best thing and turn them into machines. Modeling limbs as lever systems reveals how quickly an animal could move, finite element analysis can recreate the complex strength relationships in skulls to see what they could have eaten, and reconstructing the neck and trunk muscles of an animal may even give insight to exactly how they fed. All of these techniques have been well-established in the realm of non-avialan dinosaur palaeontology, but are nearly absent in the study of fossil avialans. My PhD goal is to apply these techniques to one of the most fascinating fossil clades and expand them even further with the unique detail and soft tissue preservation found in Chinese Mesozoic fossil avialans.

Email: Case.Miller@connect.hku.hk
Phone: (+852) 9854 2273
Hui Oi Chow 302, HKU
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Case_Miller2
Web:  OrCiD / Twitter – @PaleoCase
TA for HKU MOOC and campus course Dinosaur Ecosystems; MSc course GEOS7021 Geological Fieldwork
Select Publications:
Miller, C.V.*, Pittman, M*., Kaye, T.G., Wang, X.L. & Zheng, X.T. Disassociated rhamphotheca of fossil bird Confuciusornis informs early beak reconstruction, stress regime, and developmental patterns. Communications Biology, 3: 159.     Miller, C.V.* & Pittman, M*. The diet of early birds based on modern and fossil evidence and a new framework
for its reconstruction. Biological Reviews, accepted.

Hiu Wai Lee – PhD student
Cranial evolution of pseudosuchian reptiles (co-supervisor: Dr. Arkhat Abzhanov, Imperial College)

Hiu Wai received a BSc degree from Hong Kong Baptist University in 2015, majoring in Applied Biology. In 2020, she completed an MSc on Taxonomy, Biodiversity and Evolution at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum, London. Her MSc project involved a preliminary study of the evolutionary and ontogenetic changes in cranial organisation of archosaurs under the supervision of Dr. Borja Esteve-Altava (Pompeu Fabra University, Spain) and Dr. Arkhat Abzhanov. She found that the evolutionary fusion of cranial sutures played an important role on cranial composition and that this fusion pattern resonates with fusion observed in modern archosaurs.

Hiu Wai’s PhD project involves a bigger picture and more lineage-specific documentation of cranial composition across multiple lineages of pseudosuchian reptiles, ranging from suture development and classification, development of modern crocodilians, comparative anatomy, and palaeontology.

Email: hiuwail@connect.hku.hk
Location: Hui Oi Chow 302, HKU
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hiu_Wai_Lee
Web: ORCiD / Twitter – @HiuWaiLee1
TA for HKU MOOC and campus course Dinosaur Ecosystems
Select Publications:
Lee, H.W., Esteve-Altava, B. & Abzhanov, A. 2020. Evolutionary and ontogenetic changes of the anatomical organization and modularity in the skull of archosaurs. Scientific Reports, 10(1): 16138.

Past students
Mr. Edison Tse (MSc and UG), Ms. Waisum Ma Fion (UG), Mr. Jefferson Hsieh (UG), Mr. Anyang Ding (UG), Mr. Raymond Fong (PhD), Ms. Crystal Wong (UG), Ms. Ariel Ng, Mr. Chan Fai Lo.


As part of our integrative research approach we collaborate with a range of leading international experts from different fields. Here is a selection of project collaborators both past and present:

Current Projects

Prof. Xing Xu (Deputy Director of IVPP, Beijing, China; HKU Division of Earth & Planetary Science Honorary Professor) – avian and flight origins; fieldwork in China; HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems; co-supervisor of PhD student Arindam Roy; HKU Honorary Professor.

Mr. Thomas G. Kaye (Foundation for Scientific Advancement, Arizona, USA; HKU Laboratory of Space Science) – Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF) imaging; actuopalaeontological experiments; co-supervisor of PhD students Arindam Roy and Case V. Miller.

Prof. Xiaoli Wang (Linyi University, Linyi, China)  – avian and flight origins: collaboration with Prof. Xiaoteng Zheng at the Tianyu Musuem in Shandong, China. Co-supervisor of PhD student Case V. Miller.

Prof. Xiaoteng Zheng (Director of Shandong Tianyu Museum, Pingyi, China) – avian and flight origins: collaboration with Prof. Xiaoli Wang.

Dr. T. Alexander Dececchi (Mount Marty College, Yanktown, USA) – avian and flight origins

Dr. Diego Pol (Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, Trelew, Argentina) –  fieldwork in Patagonia, Argentina; instructor of HKU MOOC Dinosaur Ecosystems; Gondwanan dinosaurs including abelisaurid theropods

Dr. Michael B. Habib (USC, Los Angeles, USA) – avian and flight origins; pterosaur flight

Dr. Hans C.E. Larsson (McGill University, Montreal, Canada) – avian and flight origins

Dr. Gerald Mayr (Senckenberg Institute Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany) – non-avian avialan evolution

Dr. Evan Saitta (Independent) – amniote palaeocolour; actuopalaeontology

Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager & Prof. Richard Butler (U of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK) – oviraptorosaurian skull biomechanics (supervisor and co-supervisor of Fion Ma and Luke Meade)

Dr. Jen Bright (U of Hull, Hull, UK) – enantiornithine bird diet (co-supervisor of Case V. Miller)

Dr. Arkhat Abzhanov (Imperial College, UK) – archosaur cranial evolution (co-supervisor of Hiu Wai Lee)

Dr. Julius T. Csotonyi (palaeoartist, Vancouver, Canada) – life reconstructions, including palaeoartist for Dinosaur Ecosystems MOOC

Dr. Scott Hartman (palaeoartist, Madison, USA) – quantitative skeletal and body outline reconstructions, , including palaeoartist for Dinosaur Ecosystems MOOC

Past Projects
Phylogenetic analysis and methods Pablo A. Goloboff (Fundación Miguel Lillo, Tucuman, Argentina)

Pennaraptoran systematics and fossil record flight – Jingmai O’Connor (IVPP, Beijing, China), Pete Makovicky (University of Minnesota, Minnesota, USA, Daniel J Field (U of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK), Alan H. Turner (Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, USA)                                                             

Enantiornithine birdsDr. Jesús Marugán-Lobón & Angela Buscalioni (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain)                                                                                                                              

Dromaeosaurid theropods Dr. Rui Pei (IVPP, Beijing, China), Prof. Mark A. Norell (AMNH, New York,  USA)

Fieldwork in Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China; oviraptorosaur reproductionProf. Shundong Bi (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, USA)                                                                                                                                 

Late Cretaceous Inner Mongolian dinosaursDr. Jonah Choiniere (U of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa), Dr. Corwin Sullivan (U of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada), Mr. Qingwei Tan () & Mr. Lin Tan (

Dinosaur tail evolution and biomechanicsProf. Paul Upchurch (UCL, London, UK), Prof. John R Hutchinson (RVC, Hatfield, UK)

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