Matthew Ravosa, Ph.D.
Professor of Biological Sciences, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, and Anthropology
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
Background: I am a Professor of Biological Sciences, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, and Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, as well as a Research Associate in Zoology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. My experimental research program focuses on the evolutionary morphology, mechanobiology, development, pathobiology and aging of the mammalian skull, feeding apparatus and musculoskeletal system.
Question 1: Tell us why you chose your particular field of study, why did it grab your interest and fuel your curiosity?
Answer: I was one of those kids who got hooked on dinosaurs and never strayed too far. Due to the well-publicized scientific exploits of Louis Leakey when I was in elementary and middle school, this led to an interest in human evolution. Of course, as dinosaurs and early hominids vary remarkably in skull form, this in turn explains my lifelong interest in craniomandibular biomechanics, ontogeny and evolution. This was fueled along the way by my Nonie (my mom's mom), who gave me myriad dinosaur models, and my parents Carm and Rita, who encouraged me to follow my passion — no matter how different from their jobs as a businessman and English teacher, respectively. I also benefitted significantly from a great science curriculum in middle and high school as well as the flexibility to cobble together an interdepartmental major as an undergraduate that provided me the diverse background necessary for graduate school.
Question 2: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
Answer: Growing up on the New England coast, I developed a strong affinity for activities associated with the ocean. I've been doing something in saltwater since I was a baby. Having a lobster license as a kid allowed me to survey a panoply of fish and crustaceans from Long Island Sound. Likewise, sailing and kayaking have figured heavily in my summer exploits with family members and friends. Since moving to the rolling hills of southern Michigan farm country a couple years ago, I've been able to indulge my inner mammalogist via the acquisition of rescue llamas and alpacas, which have come to captivate the attention and imagination of my two sons, Nico and Luca.
Question 3: What are you most proud of in your work?
Answer: The mammalian skull is a particularly complex organismal system, developing from multiple tissue types and housing several sense organs. In attempting to understand and unravel the complexity of interactions among cranial components, my research has become more collaborative and integrative as I've gotten older. This has allowed me the pleasure of working with a number of fun and exceptionally smart trainees and colleagues, one of whom is my wife Sharon, a biochemist. Thus, while I'm still a 'head' guy, the way I do research has changed radically, diversifying and availing itself of modern techniques in biological and non-biological disciplines such as engineering. This forward-thinking perspective maps onto my feeling that a given area of scientific inquiry needs to sample the methods of other fields so as to grow, remain vital and address longstanding questions that vexed earlier generations.
Question 4: If you had to go live on a desert island, what are the three things you would bring with you?
Answer: My family, music and a blender.
Question 5: Share a comment or opinion you have on a topical science-related issue — preferably one not associated with your own field.
Answer: Conservation of the world's flora and fauna, both great and small, is critical to our future on so many levels, from the practical benefits of new drug therapies from obscure plants to halting pollution of ground water, rivers and oceans. [There is] the maintenance of ecosystem stability and diversity, and more seemingly esoteric issues, such as preserving majestic organisms like whales. Yet, the appreciation of conservation, as well as many issues related to climate science such as global warming, have become greatly politicized and cavalierly dismissed as unproven and thus unimportant to humanity.