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Professor Emily Rayfield

Professor Emily Rayfield

Professor Emily Rayfield
B.A.(Oxon.), Ph.D.(Cantab.)

Professor of Palaeobiology

Area of research

How skeletal mechanics influences morphological evolution and the relationship between form and function in hard tissues

Office LSB 119
Life Sciences Building,
24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 39 41210


My research focuses on the function of living and extinct animals. In my lab we use biomechanical analysis, including the engineering technique finite element analysis (FEA), to deduce how skeletons function. From this we can infer and estimate the function of living and extinct animals and explore the evolution of form and function, for example, in response to major environmental change and across evolutionary transitions. Current research projects focus on non-avian dinosaurs and birds, the water-to-land transition and the origin of mammals amongst other topics. Research is not exclusively focused on vertebrates. I have been or am involved in projects exploring the function of hard tissues in sponges, coralline algae, foraminiferans, bivalves and scaphopods - particularly exploring the resilience of the skeleton in acidifying oceans.

To achieve this aim we use computed tomography (CT) scanning including our in-house Nikon XT H 225 ST scanner, digital reconstruction and computational biomechanical methods (FEA, MDA), geometric morphometric methods, alongside material property testing and experimental strain gauge analysis in order to validate our computational models. 


I teach undergraduate and postgraduate classes in the classroom and in the field.

I am unit organiser for the Year 3 & 4 unit Vertebrate Palaeobiology and Biomechanics. I am a co-leader of the Year 1 Introduction to Field Skills in Earth Sciences fieldtrip to the isle of Arran. I oversee the Year 4 MSci research projects for our Palaeobiology and Evolution undergraduate students. Each year I supervise 2-3 Year 4 MSci projects and 4-6 MSc research projects. I also act as a personal tutor for our BSc and MSci Palaeontology and Evolution undergraduate students. 



  • skeletal mechanics
  • evolution
  • finite element analysis

Selected publications

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Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system


Professor Rayfield currently teaches 7 courses:

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