PhD Opportunity – pterosaur launch

Pterosaur biomechanics is something that I’m obviously very interested in, and the launch of pterosaurs is something that has been heavily debated. Traditionally, pterosaurs were thought to launch like birds, either running on their hindlimbs and jumping, or vertically launching into the air. However, it has been suggested more recently that they may have launched in a quadrupedal fashion, using their forelimbs to ballistically launch into the air, much like modern vampire bats. This hypothetical quadrupedal launch is advantageous, because it means that both the take-off and flight musculature is one in the same, unlike birds which carry extra baggage during flight, having their leg muscles providing little to no assistance during flight.

While the quadrupedal launch method has been proposed by Mike Habib based on basic mechanics and engineering is fairly well accepted within the pterosaur community, a detailed study of the launch mechanics in giant pterosaurs has not been done. I am fortunate enough to be involved in a PhD project proposal to look in more detail at pterosaur launch, using muscular reconstructions, comparing the launch mechanics between pterosaurs and birds, size limits to launch, and much more. The project is called “Pterosaur gigantism and and the quadrupedal launch: how did the largest airborne animals get off the ground?”. The student will be based at the University of Bristol, in the growing Palaeobiology group, working under the supervision of Professor Emily Rayfield. The project combines muscle reconstruction and anatomy with biomechanics and engineering, and we’re looking for someone who isn’t afraid of math and computation. We are interested in the limits of pterosaur launch – is quadrupedal launch possible or realistic? If so, how does size affect launch? What is the upper limit of pterosaur size, based on launch?

The project itself is part of the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership, meaning that both UK and EU students are eligible for funding, but funding is not guaranteed, as the best students will get funding. However, any overseas students with funding are also encouraged to apply. A detailed description of the project can be found here (PDF), and the project is also listed on the NERC GW4+ website. The deadline for NERC GW4+ applications is January 6, 2017, and more details and the application can be found here.

If anyone has any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask Emily or I! Looking forward to seeing the applications!

Image of an azhdarchid pterosaur in quadrupedal launch. Image by James Brown.

5 thoughts on “PhD Opportunity – pterosaur launch

  1. Looks like a bit better timing than in the Molnar video. Still, how strong and fast does this monster need to be to do that in the manner shown?


    1. That would be the point of this PhD, to figure out exactly what is required, and whether or not they were able to do it! It hasn’t been looked at properly and in great detail, and that is the purpose of this PhD proposal


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