Professor Martin Brasier

Senior Research Member

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

Research Profile

Professor Martin Brasier, RIP


It was with great sadness and a tremendous sense of loss that the Department learned of the death of Martin Brasier in a tragic car accident close to Oxford on 16th December.

Martin was a highly respected colleague, an inspirational teacher and mentor, a trusted friend, and wonderful company.

Martin's research led to fundamental discovery about the origins of life on Earth, of eukaryotes, and of animals. His worked addressed all periods of Earth history, from modern foraminifera to Neogene grasses and Cretaceous amber, with perhaps his most important research on Cambrian and Precambrian palaeobiology. He leaves a huge scientific legacy.

His legacy is equally significant in the people he trained and inspired. His tutorials and field teaching will be fondly remembered by many, and his graduate students populate faculty and research positions in leading universities around the world. Martin's intellectual spirit lives on in the cutting edge research they conduct, and in the students they in turn inspire. He was also a wonderful colleague to all those fortunate enough to share a department with him; full of fascinating insight and dry humour. We will all miss him deeply.

Martin had been at Oxford since 1988 as a Tutorial Fellow at St. Edmund Hall, and as Professor of Palaeobiology at the Department of Earth Sciences. He retired from academic duties last year, but continued to have a strong research presence in the Department and he Museum of Natural History. His huge influence was celebrated earlier this year with a gathering of his colleagues, organised by his recent graduate students. This was an opportunity to see the burgeoning of his scientific ideas, and to share in his enthusiasm for music, archaeology, and the history of science. Martin was a true polymath, and a lover of life. I for one will remember him through the many faceted vision of the world that he shared with us all at that event.

Gideon Henderson

Head, Department of Earth Sciences

17th December 2014

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

  • Brasier, M, Cotton, L, Yenney, I, (2009) 'First report of amber with spider webs and microbial inclusions from the earliest Cretaceous (c. 140 Ma) of Hastings, Sussex', JOURNAL OF THE GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY. pp. 989-997 doi: 10.1144/0016-76492008-158
  • Brasier, MD, Antcliffe, JB, (2009) 'Evolutionary relationships within the Avalonian Ediacara biota: new insights from laser analysis', JOURNAL OF THE GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY. pp. 363-384 doi: 10.1144/0016-76492008-011
  • Callow, RHT, Brasier, MD, (2009) 'A solution to Darwin's dilemma of 1859: exceptional preservation in Salter's material from the late Ediacaran Longmyndian Supergroup, England', JOURNAL OF THE GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY. pp. 1-4 doi: 10.1144/0016-76492008-095
  • McLoughlin, N, Wilson, LA, Brasier, MD, (2008) 'Growth of synthetic stromatolites and wrinkle structures in the absence of microbes - implications for the early fossil record.', Geobiology. pp. 95-105 doi: 10.1111/j.1472-4669.2007.00141.x
  • Antcliffe, JB, Brasier, MD, (2008) 'Charnia at 50: Developmental models for Ediacaran fronds', PALAEONTOLOGY. pp. 11-26 doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2007.00738.x
  • Wacey, D, Kilburn, MR, McLoughlin, N, Parnell, J, Stoakes, CA, Grovenor, CRM, Brasier, MD, (2008) 'Use of NanoSIMS in the search for early life on Earth: ambient inclusion trails in a c. 3400 Ma sandstone', JOURNAL OF THE GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY. pp. 43-53 doi: 10.1144/0016-76492007-032
  • Brasier, MD, Callow, RHT, (2007) 'Changes in the Patterns of Phosphatic Preservation across the Proterozoic-Cambrian Transition', Memoirs of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists. pp. 377-389
  • Lindsay, J, Brasier, M, (2006) 'Impact craters as biospheric microenvironments, Lawn Hill Structure, northern Australia', ASTROBIOLOGY. pp. 348-363 doi: 10.1089/ast.2006.6.348
  • Brasier, MD, Green, OR, Lindsay, JF, McLoughlin, N, Steele, A, Stoakes, C, (2005) 'Critical testing of earth's oldest putative fossil assemblage from the similar to 3.5 Ga Apex Chert, Chinaman Creek, western Australia', PRECAMBRIAN RESEARCH. pp. 55-102 doi: 10.1016/j.precamres.2005.06.008
  • Brasier, M, Green, O, Lindsay, J, Steele, A, (2004) 'Earth's oldest (similar to 3.5 Ga) fossils and the 'Early Eden hypothesis': Questioning the evidence', ORIGINS OF LIFE AND EVOLUTION OF THE BIOSPHERE. pp. 257-269 doi: 10.1023/B:ORIG.0000009845.62244.d3
  • Brasier, MD, Green, OR, Jephcoat, AP, Kleppe, AK, Van Kranendonk, MJ, Lindsay, JF, Steele, A, Grassineau, NV, (2002) 'Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils.', Nature. pp. 76-81 doi: 10.1038/416076a
  • Lindsay, JF, Brasier, MD, (2002) 'Did global tectonics drive early biosphere evolution? Carbon isotope record from 2.6 to 1.9 Ga carbonates of Western Australian basins', PRECAMBRIAN RESEARCH. pp. 1-34 doi: 10.1016/S0301-9268(01)00219-4
  • Brasier, MD, Shields, G, (2000) 'Neoproterozoic chemostratigraphy and correlation of the Port Askaig glaciation, Dalradian Supergroup of Scotland', JOURNAL OF THE GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY. pp. 909-914 doi: 10.1144/jgs.157.5.909
  • Brasier, M, McCarron, G, Tucker, R, Leather, J, Allen, P, Shields, G, (2000) 'New U-Pb zircon dates for the Neoproterozoic Ghubrah glaciation and for the top of the Huqf Supergroup, Oman', GEOLOGY. pp. 175-178 doi: 10.1130/0091-7613(2000)028<0175:NUPZDF>2.3.CO;2

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