Research Background

Hello, I’m Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist and science communicator currently affiliated with The University of Manchester as a Visiting Scientist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES).

Dean Excavating tyrannosaur (<i>Gorgosaurus libratus</i>) and hadrosaur bones at the Linster Quarry, Montana (2009).
Excavating tyrannosaur (Gorgosaurus libratus) & hadrosaur bones at the Linster Quarry, Montana (2009).

My career in academia has been far from traditional. In school I was an average student and failed my GCSE science and A-levels. As a result, I did not have the grades nor finances to go to university and never did an undergraduate degree. I decided instead to gain first-hand experience in the field and in 2008, aged 18, I began writing my first academic paper, and thus began my journey into academia.

Despite initially holding off attending university for several years, I completed an MPhil in palaeontology from The University of Manchester, which I obtained without having an undergraduate degree. Although rare, the opportunity to study was based on my previous contributions to palaeontology and my publication track record. Following on from my MPhil, I subsequently completed my PhD also at The University of Manchester.

One of the most fascinating things about research is that I get to travel a lot, meet interesting people and study extraordinary fossils. This has led to me visiting hundreds of institutions and examining thousands of fossils, which has resulted in numerous academic publications (most as lead author – see here). I have become internationally recognised as a leading expert on ichthyosaurs (marine reptiles that superficially resemble dolphins), especially those from the Early Jurassic, around 200-180 million years old. The last decade has largely been spent studying the most famous ichthyosaur of all, Ichthyosaurus. However, my research interests are broad and I've written academic papers on a variety of topics, from a Jurassic horseshoe crab death march to coal measures plants and to dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, eurypterids and more. I also have a particular interest in the life of late Georgian early Victorian palaeontologist, Mary Anning, and have examined all of the known ichthyosaurs that Mary (and her family) collected from Lyme Regis, Dorset.

My research has been covered extensively by the media, appearing in the likes of National Geographic, BBC, Smithsonian Magazine, The Guardian, IFLScience and much more. To help disseminate my work, I present palaeontology lectures at numerous institutions, at professional conferences, and to the general public – often as an invited speaker or keynote lecturer. It also seems appropriate to point out that the majority of my research and studies are self-funded.

Examining the enormous ichthyosaur, <i>Shonisaurus sikanniensis</i>, with Professor Judy Massare at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Canada (Sept, 2017).
Examining the enormous ichthyosaur, Shonisaurus sikanniensis, with Professor Judy Massare at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Canada (Sept, 2017).

Highlights (Selected Examples)
Some highlights regarding my work on ichthyosaurs includes: describing an enormous blue whale-sized ichthyosaur from the UK, based on the discovery of an incomplete giant jaw bone; identification of a new genus and species that I called Wahlisaurus massarae, in honour of two colleagues; description of two new species based on fossils collected almost 200 years ago, Ichthyosaurus larkini and I. somersetensis; identification of a new species based on a specimen misidentified as a plaster cast, which I named after Mary Anning, Ichthyosaurus anningae; the largest example of Ichthyosaurus, which also contained an embryo; and the description of an ichthyosaur pregnant with octuplets.

Examples of my research on other fossil groups includes: describing the world’s longest death track, a 9.7 m long trackway created by a 150 million-year-old horseshoe crab with the animal preserved at the end; discovering, describing and reporting a new fossil location in my hometown of Doncaster, which included finding fossils such as horseshoe crabs and a shark eggcase; the most complete specimen of the elasmosaurid plesiosaur Zarafasaura oceanis from Africa; description of an 8.5 m drag mark created by a dead, floating ammonite; and the discovery and naming of a Velociraptor cousin from the Late Jurassic of Wyoming, USA, Hesperornithoides miessleri (AKA, ‘Lori’)

Studying ichthyosaur skeletons in the world famous Marine Reptiles Gallery at The Natural History Museum, London (Sept, 2016).
Studying ichthyosaur skeletons in the world famous Marine Reptiles Gallery at The Natural History Museum, London (Sept, 2016).

One of the most fun aspects of palaeontology is fieldwork – of course! I’ve travelled to many unusual and often relatively remote locations to hunt for and collect dinosaurs and other fossils. Although most of my time is spent across the UK, I’ve been on expeditions in North America and Europe. In particular, I have spent many months in the American West, in the states of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Utah, but also in Florida. Such projects have included the excavation and research of numerous dinosaur (and other fossil) sites, occasionally culminating in academic publications. This has also involved the re-excavation of historical sites, including the original site of the large, Late Jurassic pliosaur Megalneusaurus rex. Besides the UK, fieldwork in Europe has primarily been spent in Germany and France. For example, in 2011, I was the manager and palaeontologist overseeing the collection of fossils from a rare Lagerstätte (a site of exceptional preservation). Called Menat, this site in Central France is one of very few exceptionally preserved Palaeocene-aged Lagerstätten in the world. This work included the creation of a reference collection of fossils and management of visiting groups from France, Germany and England.

  • Examples of My Research in the News
  • ‘Oldest known Velociraptor relative in North America discovered’ (@NationalGeographic)
  • ‘Jurassic Britain was a dinosaur paradise’ (@TheIndependent)
  • ‘Yorkshires prehistoric past unearthed’ (@Dailymail)
  • ‘Jurassic World: Palaeontologist Dean Lomax describes his dream hybrid dinosaur’ (@IBTimes)
  • ‘Prehistoric 'Sea Monster' May Be Largest That Ever Lived’ (@National Geographic)
  • ‘Secrets of 195-million-year old marine reptile uncovered’ (@Phys.Org)
  • ‘New species of Ichthyosaurus rediscovered in museum collection, first in 130 years’ (@BBC)
  • ‘Local Hero - Dean Lomax’ (@MuseumsAssociation)
  • ‘British 'sea dragon' fossils are 'new to science' (@BBC)
  • ‘Dinosaur Britain: Latest palaeontology discoveries reveal 'find of the century' – a new dinosaur' (@IBTimes)
  • ‘Forgotten fossil that lay in a museum for half a century is found to be a new species of 'British' ichthyosaur' (@Dailymail)

Professional Associations & Affiliations
Visiting Scientist at The University of Manchester, UK.
Patron for the Mary Anning Rocks! Campaign, UK.
Patron for the UK Association of Fossil Hunters (UKAFH), UK.
Member of the Palaeontographical Society, UK.
Member of the Geological Curators Group, UK.
Member of the Palaeontological Association, UK.
Honorary Lifetime Member of the Western Interior Paleontological Society, USA.
Member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, USA.
Resident palaeontologist for Yorkshire Wildlife Park, UK.