Computational Paleophysiology

BIOL 5665, GEo 5665

Course Description

This course examines the methods scientists use to 'put flesh on the bones' of extinct animals.  It is designed to give students the opportunity to conduct research using the quantitative tools needed to build computational models that reconstruct the biology of extinct organisms as well as to teach students how to frame hypotheses, select appropriate methods for investigating hypotheses, analyze data, use logic and evidence to reach conclusions, write a scientific paper, and communicate findings as an oral presentation. Students gain a better understanding of the process of science and how science is integrated with society. Students gain experience in modeling and simulation and with computational and systems level approaches to biological discovery. The class emphasizes project-based and collaborative learning.

Computational paleophysiology is an interdisciplinary course that integrates knowledge and methodologies from the fields of biology, paleontology, computational sciences, chemistry, engineering, and geology.  It is cross-listed in the Department of Biology, College of Science, and in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, in the College of Mines and Earth Sciences. It can count toward track credit in a number of departments in the College of Engineering (Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Computational Engineering and Science, and others). Check with an undergraduate advisor in your department.

The fieldwork focuses on experiential and hands on learning, problem solving, data collection and analysis. The course consists of approximately 30 hours (flipped) lectures and 40 hours of fieldwork. The course includes a field trip - July 9-12

Enrollment is limited so apply early.  For questions contact the instructor at cg.frmr at

Course Rationale

Making and studying trackways at the Great Salt Lake
Theropod dinosaur and human trackways

Validating the methods scientists use to retrodict life history: Students create trackways while filming themselves walking and running on different substrates. Measurements of the trackways are then used to retrodict limb length, the speed of the runner, as well as compute estimates of cost of transport and body posture. To assess the accuracy of the methodologies, these values are compared to anatomical measurements and the data collected by filming the runners. The methods are then used to study the trackways of extinct animals in the field, to gain insight into cost of transport of these animals, the degree to which they had parasagittal or sprawling postures, and their locomotor speeds when they made the tracks. We will be studying trackways that were made by a quadrupedal stem-amniote, Diadectes, during the Permian Period in the Eagle Basin in Colorado and a number of trackways made by bipedal theropod dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era throughout Utah.

Meeting Time and Location

Course meets MWF July 6 - July 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Marriott Library, Room 1009. We will be spending one morning at the Great Salt Lake, (July 8th) and one morning at museums doing photogrammetry, (July 13th).

Field Trip is July 9-12th

Student Presentation 1 p.m - 4 p.m, July 20


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