In the USA, “Congress” is almost a dirty word. But for many scientists around the world, one congress is a treasure. The International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology is a special event, allowing scientists to get together for a week or so and revel in the structure, function, and evolution of backboned animals. For many of us, ICVM is our favorite conference. It’s typically pretty intimate (300-500 attendees). It’s held every 3-4 years and has been in diverse locales: Giessen (1983), Vienna (1986), Antwerp (1989), Chicago (1994), Bristol (1997), Jena (2001), Boca Raton (2004), Paris (2007), and, most recently, 26-31 July 2010, in Punta del Este, Uruguay. We’re all looking forward to Barcelona in 2013!
WitmerLab at ICVM 9
ICVM 9 in Uruguay was smaller than usual, mostly because the global financial downturn caused academic travel budgets to be downright ugly. These factors hit WitmerLab, as well, and only Dave Dufeau and I were able to attend. We’ll also count recent WitmerLab alum Casey Holliday (PhD 2006, now at Missouri) who also attended. Although we all couldn’t be there, all lab members were co-authors on my talk, which introduced a major new project that, NSF-willing, you’ll be hearing more about. This project, called the Visible Dinosaur, involves restoring all of the major anatomical systems in the head for a range of dinosaurs in a 3D virtual environment so that we can really figure out what’s going on inside the heads of dinosaurs and what it all means for their function, physiology, and behavior.
Dave Dufeau presented a wonderful and well-received summary of his doctoral dissertation research on the middle ear and sinuses of archosaurs and their functional role in hearing. Casey Holliday presented some of the research on croc skull evolution that he started as a doctoral student here and which we published in 2009. He also presented some awesome post-WitmerLab research with Nick Gardner on a remarkable new fossil croc species. Lab member Ryan Ridgely and I also were co-authors on the presentation given by Helen James (Smithsonian) on the new Hawaiian subfossil duck Talpanas (stay tuned for more on this crazy little duck!). We foolishly neglected to take a group photo of the three of us, but fortunately John Hutchinson (Royal Veterinary College) had a photo taken at one of the fun and tasty meals we shared in Punta del Este.
Punta del Este
ICVM 9 was the first time that the Congress was held outside of the US or Europe. Uruguay was, of course, in the midst of its austral winter, but for many North Americans, temps in the mid-50s were a welcome break from the deadly (literally!) heat wave that gripped the US in July. The venue was the beautiful Hotel Conrad, located right on the beach. Penguins and sea lions gamboled in the surf as gulls and oystercatchers flew overhead. Punta del Este is a resort community, and the Conrad has a casino in which at least a few ICVM attendees spent some time (and money), but not me. As is typically the case at scientific meetings, a good bit of the meaningful discourse takes place over meals and drinks, and, despite being offseason, Punta del Este did not disappoint, with unbelievable beef, seafood, and wines.
At the Business Meeting, I was installed as President of the society that puts on the ICVM. It’s an interesting process. I was elected in 2007, when I became President-Elect. For the past three years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to apprentice under the then current President Marvalee Wake (Berkeley) and Secretary Matthias Starck (Munich). I’ll still need Marvalee’s experience and guidance, and fortunately she’ll be on hand as Past-President. One new wrinkle for the Congress is that the Past-President now takes on the major role of chairing the Scientific Program Committee, which schedules all the sessions, oversees the selection of symposia, etc. It’s a big job, and one that I’ll assume when I become Past-President in 2013. So, taken together, it’s a nine-year sentence term, starting in 2007 and ending in 2016.
Many societies have some kind of a ceremonial object that is passed from President to President. It’s often a goofy object, and ours is actually kinda nice, although Marvalee playfully calls it “the tacky turtle.” As the story goes, it originated when President-Elect R. McNeill Alexander (Leeds) jokingly asked out-going ISVM President Sue Herring (U. Washington, Seattle) if she was going to pass him the scepter at the Business Meeting at the Bristol Meeting. Sue frantically scoured the local shops for some suitable “scepter” until she found the turtle. It’s been our “mantle of power” ever since, living in former President’s Tony Russell’s (Calgary) sock drawer and then stashed somewhere in Marvalee’s office. It currently hangs prominently in my office.
A major goal for my Presidency is simply not to wreck anything, that is, to make sure that we don’t do anything that diminishes the magic of the ICVM. Many scientific societies look back to the “good ol’ days” of small intimate meetings that weren’t overly hectic and at which real exchange of ideas could occur. Inevitably, societies and their meetings grow. I want the ICVM to remain in the “good ol’ days” forever, while still encouraging growth, particularly among students and junior faculty members. This is one Congress that I’d like to remain popular.
Note: This post was delayed about a month thanks to teaching and terror birds. Better late than never…