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Undergrad Researchers Study Ancient Crocodiles

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Leveraging CT scans of fossilized crocodiles, Arthur Erb ’20 and  Olivia Taubenfeld ’20 are probing the mysteries of ancient life under the mentorship of paleontologist Alan Turner, whose focus is reconstructing large scale evolutionary patterns of therapods and crocodylomorphs.

Although their long-term goals vary, both students found their undergraduate research experiences to be a central part of their college experience and valuable preparation for their future careers.

Crocodile fossils
URECA students Olivia Taubenfeld, right, and Arthur Erb with ancient crocodile skulls

“Paleontology was a childhood interest – and I figured I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow through with it,” Erb said. As a pre-vet student, Taubenfeld recalled wanting “to do something with animals,” though she never imagined that working with fossils would be a part of her career path.

Erbis a  biology major who has long had an interest in paleontology and joined the Turner research group at the beginning of his freshman year. He presented a poster titled “ Braincase anatomy of the Paleocene crocodyliform Rhabdognathus revealed through high resolution computed tomography ” at the 2018 URECA (Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities) campus research celebration. At the start of 2019, Arthur presented his work on the “Braincase anatomy of the Paleocene crocodyliform Rhabdognathus”  at the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) 2019 Annual Meeting  in Tampa, Florida with support from a URECA Travel Grant. Arthur is currently working on a manuscript on his project. He is a graduate of Ward Melville HS in East Setauket, and plans to pursue graduate study in paleontology.

Taubenfeld is an Honors College biology major with a concentration in Interdisciplinary biology who will graduate this spring, having completed her degree in three years. For about a year and a half, Olivia has been involved in research in Turner’s research group, where she has become proficient in analyzing CT scans of crocodyliforms and will be developing a senior honors thesis based on her work.

Olivia has also worked as a wildlife rehabilitation intern at Sweetbriar Nature Center (summer 2019) and as an intern at the Long Island Aquarium (summer 2018); she also is gaining experience as a veterinary assistant at Island Veterinary Group and has interned at Old Country Animal Clinic and volunteered at several animal shelters. She has served as event coordinator for the Pre-Vet Society, and as secretary of the Ballroom Dance Team at SB, and is a member of the Greater Long Island Running Club. She is a graduate of Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK HS, and plans to go to veterinary school.

Both are enthusiastic about the research opportunities available to them at Stony Brook.

“Classes provide fundamental knowledge or background material,” Erb said. “But the experience we are getting in the Turner group gives you direct access to what actual scientists do.”

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