Paleontologist | Professor | Author | Science Communicator | Singer/Songwriter
Matthew Bonnan in the wild.
I'm Matthew F. Bonnan
I'm a paleontologist, a professor at Stockton University, and more recently a singer/songwriter. My childhood obsession with dinosaurs and fascination with animal anatomy has grown into a career. The part of paleontology I love the most is called functional morphology, which is the study of how anatomical form follows function. Therefore, I study fossils and living animal anatomy to understand dinosaurs as living animals. My current project, Once Upon Deep Time, uses music and art to communicate science.
I focus on studying and understanding the forelimbs of dinosaurs because they played so many diverse roles from grasping to body support. This involves everything from fossil fieldwork to the study of living reptiles, birds, and mammals as models. I'm particularly interested in the evolution of the forelimb in sauropod dinosaurs ("brontosaurs"), the giant long-necked plant-eaters of the Age of Dinosaurs.
How I Helped Discover Three New Dinosaurs
The ancestors of sauropods were bipeds, but as they evolved larger body sizes they dropped back down onto all-fours, transforming their arms into forelegs. I was privileged to work with a team of scientists, students, and volunteers via National Geographic-sponsored field work in South Africa that led to the discovery of three new dinosaur species that highlight this transition.
Aardonyx celestae, a transitional sauropodomorph dinosaur (almost a sauropod but not quite) that sheds light on the evolutionary transformation of the common ancestor of sauropods from a bipedal plant eater to larger, quadrupedal, bulk-browsing herbivores.
Arcusaurus pereirabdolurm, a juvenile, primitive sauropodomorph that suggests the traditional “prosauropods” were not dead yet in the Early Jurassic, and still were part of the larger dinosaurian fauna.
Pulanesaura eocolum, a true early sauropod whose neck allowed it to do what the later sauropods were really good at: standing in one place and cropping vegetation with its tiny head.
X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM)
More recently, in the laboratory, my colleagues, students, and I are using using a technique called XROMM (X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology) to non-invasively study how the bones in the forelimbs of living birds, reptiles, and mammals move to test hypotheses about the evolution of forelimb posture in the ancestors of mammals and dinosaurs.
Dr. Bonnan with students (left to right) Justine Smith, Jenna Dizinno, Kelly Muller, and Jenna Walker presenting their research on bearded dragon forelimbs at the 2019 Stockton University NAMS Undergraduate Research Symposium.
At Stockton University, I enjoy teaching undergraduates about evolution, anatomy, and paleontology, as well as the process of science itself. In fact, one of the greatest joys of being a professor is conveying to students the wonder and magic of the natural world through hands-on experiences and discussion. I teach a variety of courses including Comparative Anatomy, Vertebrate Paleontology, Embryology, and a general studies course on Dinosaurs.
One of the best things about being a professor at Stockton University is that I can work with undergraduate students on independent study and research projects. In the past, my students have worked on everything from dinosaur forelimbs to rat, lizard, and chicken locomotion! If you are a student at Stockton University and would like to be involved hands-on research in my XROMM lab studying locomotion and limb posture in living tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals), contact me!
Once Upon Deep Time
Dinosaurs may have pulled me into academics, but my other passion is music and song writing. Combining these dueling passions, I am excited to announce my new project, Once Upon Deep Time, an original song cycle about the evolution of hearing and our connection to the tree of life. I composed 12 original pop/rock songs, I am currently working with art students and faculty to develop visual media, and future performances are planned. With this project I aim to reach out beyond the university to inspire public curiosity about life past and present. Listen and see what's new!
Northern Illinois University
Ph.D. in Biological Sciences
Dissertation: The evolution and functional morphology of sauropod dinosaur locomotion.
Ph.D. Advisor: J. Michael Parrish
University of Illinois at Chicago
B.S. in Geological Sciences, Biology Minor
College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, Illinois
A.S. in Earth Sciences