University of Oxford Department of Earth Sciences
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Professor Martin Brasier

Professor of Palaeobiology

TEL: +44 (1865) 272074
FAX: +44 (1865) 272072

Research Profile

Just how good are patterns in the fossil record for studying the origins of major biological groups?And just how good is our own mental equipment for interpreting those patterns when we discover them?

My first tentative answers to these questions emerged after a year spent as Ship's Scientist aboard HMS Fawn during its cruise across the reefs and lagoons of the Caribbean in 1970. From this I could see that it is the analysis of interconnections between and within systems that may provide a valuable key for decoding the early history of life. Ever since then, I have sought to increase and expand our understanding of big transitions in the fossil record, pushing the researches of my group ever deeper in geological time. All of those questions that interest me tend to relate some very major interconnections in deep time, notably: patterns and processes in the Cambrian explosion; origins of the animal phyla; the dynamics of reefal and foraminiferal symbioses through deep time; phosphorus and the carbon cycle in deep time; origins of terrestrial ecosystems; the earliest fossil record; and the origins of life itself.

Current areas of field activity include the Archaean of Australia and the Proterozoic and Cambrian of Australia, Asia and Oman as well as Britain. We often undertake active comparisons between recent and ancient ecosystems, and we like to pioneer innovative high resolution techniques, ranging from satellite imaging and field mapping to microscopic mapping using Confocal Microscopy, Laser Raman, NanoSims and other biogeochemical mapping techniques. All of these approaches are driven, however, by our search for innovative and provocative questions. Science is not a belief system - it is a unique system for the measurement of doubt.

Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Oxford, I am also a Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford. Other duties have included serving as Chairman of the Faculty of Earth Sciences; Chairman of the Subcommission on Cambrian Stratigraphy; membership of NSF panels; membership of NASA panels on life on Mars. I also hold a Professorship at Memorial University, Newfoundland. My first popular science book “Darwin's Lost World” was published this year as a celebration of Darwin's 200th birthday.

Important resources available to my research group include: thousands of specimens relating to the origins of the major animal groups, accumulated during the last fifty years; thousands of polished thin sections relating to the earliest microscopic life; high quality Nikon Multiphot imaging facilities; a extensive library; and a field base for researchers and visitors on the coast of Pembrokeshire.

Selected Publications

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Last updated: Thursday 19th December 2013