What do a well-known and talented academic Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and a minute dinosaur that lived almost 200 million years ago, have in common?
Professor Emese Brody on extinct South African species
Professor Emese Brody’s research on this extinct South African species had earned her the accolade of her peers, who called her work “exceptional and evocative” and saw her win the 2021 Outstanding Article Award from the South African Journal of Science (SAJS). She is a sedimentology professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at UCT
The paper had been previously published and Professor Brody was not even aware of the fact that it had been entered for this award.
This award recognises outstanding work by African academics seeking to advance the SAJS’s mission: to publish high-quality research from the African continent or on African-relevant issues of interest to readers across those disciplines making an important contribution to general knowledge and benefits academics, educators and the general public.
“Being recognised as an academic in this way for my work is a rare honour. Most academics do excellent work throughout their careers but only a few are acknowledged. This is because awards are in short supply for this group of high achievers. So, I am elated by this accolade,” Brody was quoted in a statement by UCT.
More about the research
Her research revealed that about 195 million years ago, during the Early Jurassic period, a tiny dinosaur raced across a muddy environment near Nqanqarhu in the Eastern Cape at an estimated running speed of 12.5 km/h.
“We don’t know whether this bipedal carnivore was avoiding being eaten, chasing its own meal or darting across the landscape for another reason. But we do know – based on the tracks themselves – that it was running very fast,” Brody said.
Incredibly, millions of years later, several of the dinosaur’s footprints remained intact. They form a short trackway and provide an exciting snapshot into the animal’s behaviour and the ground on which it ran.
Professor Brody said the footprints are likely those of a coelophysoid dinosaur, mirroring the size of a large rooster or a turkey. “Wrinkles in the rock around each fossil footprint provide evidence of microbial mats – a common feature of fossil footprints throughout southern Africa and something that might have enhanced the tracks’ preservation,” she said.
The dinosaur’s footprints were located on a sandstone surface and show four claw impressions. But when she inspected the tracks closely, Professor Brody said it was evident that the dinosaur put most of its weight on just three of its toes.
A ‘family award’
Professor Emese Brody is no stranger to research, but this time, she said, the process was different. Two “special helpers” accompanied her on the field trip and their unwavering support ultimately led to this award.
“For the first time ever, my field assistants were my 10-year-old special needs daughter, Lilla and our personal rock, Rob, who is Lilla’s dad. I also rejoiced in the commitment and focus I could dedicate to this paper. The entire project cycle – from imitation to its acceptance by the SAJS – was completed under lockdown in 2020. In this sense, this award is a family award.”