Phil Manning uses the newest technology to investigate the oldest stuff
MANCHESTER, UK – When I finally get in contact with Phil Manning, he’s Skyping me from a room that’s part of a $5 million CT (computer tomography) scanning unit that has recently been installed, giving him access to half a dozen CT bays here at the University of Manchester, where he heads the Palaeontology Research Group.
“Some of these I could literally sit inside and do a full body scan,” he says, clearly pretty excited, “which might not be very healthy, but it’s astounding X-ray micro tomography.”
Manning might spend most of his days discovering new truths about some of the oldest things to have walked the Earth, but he spends the rest of his time looking for new technology that will help him with that pursuit. “I tend to work with objects and machines that are not exactly off the shelf solutions,” he says, “and that can have huge implications for developing new areas for ideas for solving imaging problems.”
His interest in 3D goes all the way back to high school, he says, where he was something of an artist. “I realized that 2D art was really restrictive,” Manning says, “and 3D gave you so many more options. And very often, when you’re looking at art in books, and it’s 3D art they’re trying to depict, you’re screwed! You’ve got an inherently 3D form represented in only two dimensions.”
Sound like any industrial facilities or crime scenes you know of? You think those sorts of places are hard to model?
“Fossils are a compete pain in the ass,” Manning says with a laugh. “They’re heavily mineralized; there’s just a whiff of organic material; and picking out what’s original to that animal is bloody hard.”