It was almost a disaster. For 5 whole days Fossil Hunter Lottie appeared to be lost in the post. But a spot of sleuthing and a few phone calls later, and PHEW! She turned up safe and sound in the University of Leeds post room, ready for her next adventure… spending the day at work with micropalaeontologist Dr Tracy Aze!

Over to Tracy (& Fossil Hunter Lottie) with a post that also has the #girlswithtoys hashtag totally covered…

I recently moved to the University of Leeds to take up a post as a lecturer in Marine Micropalaeontology having previously been working as a Research Fellow in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. My research is principally focused on a group of tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the oceans called planktonic foraminifera. They have an exceptional fossil record and I use it to investigate how evolution works over long time-scales, what past environments were like and how biodiversity has responded to climate change. One of my current research projects has been to test Cope’s rule (the idea that the body size of ancestor-descendant populations gets bigger over time) and has involved the analysis of over 30,000 individual planktonic foraminifera fossils! A new project is going to be working on cores from the Uruguayan Shelf (from the sea bed just off the coast of Uruguay in South America) to investigate plankton evolution and climatic change in this region.

I took Fossil Hunter Lottie into my lab, to show her what happens after the fieldwork is over and the all-important analysis begins…

Lottie arriving at the Leeds Micropalaeontology Lab, excited to get in and look at some microfossils… she hasn’t looked at such tiny fossils on her travels so far.

Lottie arriving at the Leeds Micropalaeontology Lab, excited to get in and look at some microfossils… she hasn’t looked at such tiny fossils on her travels so far.


Lottie helps out with sample preparation. She is washing some deep-sea sediments with a jet of water over a very fine mesh sieve to make it easier to collect and look at the microfossils.


When the sample had dried Lottie was able to look at the fossils. Because they are so tiny (each one could fit on the head of a pin!!) Lottie needs to use the microscope so she can see all of their different shapes.


Here I am explaining more about all of the different types of microfossils we can see. I can see them down my Zeiss Axio Zoom V16 microscope — it’s like the Ferrari of microscopes! — and she is watching the live action image on the computer that is coming from the camera mounted on top of the microscope. She was amazed at all the different types there were because without the microscope it just looked like sand to her.


The type of microfossil we are looking at is a group called planktonic foraminifera, and they are tiny, single-celled organisms that live in our modern oceans, but have existed for over 150 million years. There are countless planktonic foraminifera fossils all over the sea floor, so if we collect the ocean sediments and take them back to the lab there are plenty of fossils for us to look at.


Lottie also helped me take measurements from the pictures we took of the planktonic foraminifera fossils, because we were wondering if they got bigger as they evolved. If we look at lots of different fossils from lots of samples of different ages, we can figure this out!


So, properly chuffed with with a day of actual real-life lab work under her belt, Fossil Hunter Lottie is off to her next #realfossilhunter tour stop: Oxford University where she’ll meet Dr Allison Daley and some *extremely* old (and weird) fossil creatures.


Written by Tracy Aze (@Tracy_Aze). Al photos (c) Tracy Aze.

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