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A woman stood to one side next to a case with creatures in it like a fish, tortoise and armadillo. She is smiling and wearing a pink top.

Dr Emma Nicholls

As Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman, Emma focuses on the curation, documentation, and research of the palaeontology, geology and osteology collections.
Emma provides subject specialist expertise to support other departments at the Museum such as Exhibitions, Digital, Schools and Family Learning, and the Object in Focus Loans Project. She also gives tours, talks, demonstrations and hands on sessions for our diverse public outreach programme that includes family activities, school clubs, members’ events and Museum Lates for adults. Most recently, Emma helped to update and deliver the incredible Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs exhibition as Scientific Advisor to Gondwana Studios. Emma’s academic background is vertebrate palaeontology. She completed an MSci in Geology with a masters’ thesis on the palaeoecology of dinosaurs at Hornsleasow in the Cotswolds. She went on to research the phylogenetics of fossil and modern crocodilians to obtain an MSc in Palaeobiology. Emma’s PhD thesis focused on the palaeoecology of elasmobranches, devising eco-groups and determining how patterns in cohabiting taxa changed geographically, environmentally, and throughout geological time. Post-PhD she reverted to reptiles, her true passion and academic interest, and is on the organising committee of the Marine Reptile Conference, taking place at the Etches Collection: Museum of Jurassic Marine Life in Dorset, May 2020. As well as MRC2020, Emma is on the steering committee for the Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, the organising committee for the Symposium on Palaeontological Preparation and Conservation, and the general committee for the Geological Curators’ Group for which she is both Newsletter Editor and Blog Editor. Emma is also a member of the Palaeontological Association, the Palaeontographical Society, and the Natural Sciences Collections Association. Emma represents the Natural History department on the Climate and Ecology Action Group, helping the Museum work towards meeting the specific commitments outlined in the Climate and Ecological Emergency Declaration.

Research interests

Emma’s primary research interest is Mesozoic reptiles, and she is currently working on the dinosaur, plesiosaur, ichthyosaur and crocodilian material held at the Horniman. The fossil collection of Walter H. Bennett (1892-1971), an enigmatic and poorly known collection of over 175,000 fossil specimens collected from at least 34 countries across the world. Furthering our understanding of collections management best practice with regard to fossil material. Specifically how museums and institutions with limited money and/or resources can identify and obtain their best possible scenario.

Recent conference presentations

  • 2019. You’re Extremely Accommodating… for a Curator. The Geological Curators’ Group: How can we make our precious collections available to researchers?
  • 2019. Enigmatic Ichthyosaurs of the ‘Lost’ Bennett Collection. Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy.
  • 2019. Bennett’s Archosaurs from Sites of Recognised Importance. Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy.
  • 2019. Making the Most of What You’ve Got. Natural Sciences Collections Association: Dead Interesting – Secrets of Collections Success.
  • 2019. Predictions for Apex Predator Responses to Eustatic Sea Level Rise, Based on the Fossil Record. The Royal Society: The Past is a Foreign Country – How Much can the Fossil Record Actually Inform Conservation?
  • 2018. Hindsight at the Horniman. The Geological Curators’ Group: Inspiring Volunteers – Promoting Collections.
  • 2018. A Year of Coraling and Corralling. Natural Sciences Collections Association: The Museum Ecosystem: Exploring How Different Subject Specialisms can Work More Closely Together.
  • 2017. Coping with Short Notice. The Geological Curators’ Group: Making the Most of a Move.
  • 2016. Endangered Species are Ten a Penny. European Elasmobranch Association Conference.
  • 2016. Patterns in the Palaeoecology of Modern and Cretaceous Chondrichthyan Faunas. Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy.
  • 2016. A Documentation Mystification. Symposium on Palaeontological Preparation and Conservation.

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