Faculty Profile: Stephen Gatesy, PHD, AM

Stephen Gatesy
Stephen Gatesy, PHD, AM
Professor of Biology
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Work: +1 401-863-3770
My research is directed at understanding the evolution of the vertebrate locomotor system and the functional consequences of changing morphology as seen in the fossil record. The majority of my work focuses on bipedal locomotion and the evolution of flight in carnivorous dinosaurs, using living birds, footprints, and fossils. Our group is pioneering morphology-based 3-D motion analysis by combining computer models and bi-planar x-ray imaging.


My background is in biology, paleontology, and art. I was an undergraduate at Colgate University (B.A., 1983) before a year-long Watson Fellowship looking at dinosaurs in Europe. At Harvard (Ph.D. 1989) I did x-ray and muscle activity studies of alligators and birds to explore the evolution of hind limb function in meat-eating dinosaurs. I received postdoctoral training in nerve-muscle development at Emory University, bird flight at the University of Montana, and avian embryology at Harvard before joining the faculty at Wake Forest University. Since 1995 I've been a professor at Brown, where I teach human anatomy to medical students. My research has used high-end 3-D animation tools to: reconstruct dinosaur foot movements based on fossil tracks, measure skeletal motion in flying birds, and find new ways to study locomotor evolution. I strive to be a bridge between biologists exclusively studying living animals and paleontologists working solely with fossils.



Research Description

My research is directed at understanding the evolution of the vertebrate locomotor system. Our lab has focused on the clade Archosauria, a group that includes birds, other dinosaurs, crocodilians, pterosaurs, and additional extinct forms. We are pursuing two main questions. First, how has bipedal locomotion, a highly conserved trait, changed over the last 200 million years of theropod (carnivorous dinosaur) evolution? Second, how was the body plan of a terrestrial theropod transformed to acquire an entirely novel capability–-powered flight? Both of these questions involve gaining a better understanding of how living birds use their legs, wings, and tail.

My students and I integrate data from structural, functional, historical, and computer modeling approaches. We use techniques such as electromyography, motion analysis (based on x-ray and light video or film), and force plates to interpret the interaction of the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems during locomotion. Three-dimensional (3-D) computer animation has become increasingly important for our research over the past ten years. Using animation software (Autodesk's Maya and its predecessor), we create articulated virtual skeletons to quantify complex movement in living archosaurs, reconstruct locomotion in extinct theropods, and explore limb movement from a more theoretical perspective. Recently we have begun using detailed kinematic data from alligators and pigeons to calculate the balance of forces at the shoulder and how joint loading evolved on the line to birds.

Grants and Awards

Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, 1983-1984.

Jeffries Wyman Scholarship, Harvard University, 1986.

Romer Prize for best student paper, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, 1987.

D. Dwight Davis Award for best student paper, Division of Vertebrate Morphology, American Society of Zoologists, 1989.

NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship in Science and Engineering (declined), 1989.

National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in Environmental Biology, 1992-1993.

Joukowsky Family Assistant Professor of Biology, Brown University, 1996-2001.


Member, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Member, International Society of Vertebrate Morphologists.

Research Associate, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Funded Research

Current grants

National Science Foundation, "Kinematics and Kinetics of Long-axis Rotation in Avian Bipedal Locomotion", #IOS- 0925077, $422,979, 8/1/09-7/31/12, PI with T. Roberts (co-PI).

W.M. Keck Foundation, "A Proposal to Design and Build a Dynamic 3-D Skeletal Imaging System", $1,962,464, 2/01/07-1//31/10, co-PI.

Completed grants

National Science Foundation, "IDBR: Hardware and Software Development for 3D Visualization of Rapid Skeletal Motion in Vertebrate Animals", #DBI-0552051, $345,486, 6/1/06-5/31-09, co-PI.

National Science Foundation, "SGER: Scientific Rotoscoping: A Morphology-Based Method of Motion Analysis and Visualization", #IOB-0532159, $110,000, 9/1/05-8/31/07, PI.

Brown University, Research Seed Funding Award, "Development and Verification of CTX Imaging for Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Research", $100,000, 1/06-12/06, co-PI.

National Science Foundation, "Reconstructing Theropod Dinosaur Limb Movements Using 3D Computer-Animated Track Simulation", #DBI-9974424, $172,706, 9/15/99-6/30/03, PI.

National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant, "Evolution and Functional Morphology of the Theropod Foot", #IBN-0073136, $6,012, 7/1/00-1/31/03, acting PI for doctoral student Kevin Middleton.

Salomon Faculty Research Award, "Analysis of Bird Wings by 3-Dimensional Computer Animation", Brown University, $12,000, 1996.

National Science Foundation, "Avian Neuromuscular Diversity: The Evolution of Muscle Morphology, Function, and Development", #IBN-9407367, $183,419, 7/1/94-6/30/99, PI.

Teaching Experience

I am trained as a vertebrate morphologist and functional anatomist/paleontologist. Since 1995 I have participated in the gross anatomy course for first year medical students. I have also taught BI0188 (Comparative Biology of the Vertebrates), the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate seminar, and supervised undergraduate independent studies and honors theses.

Courses Taught

  • Anatomy (BIOL 3644)
  • Human Morphology (BI0181)
  • Independent Research (BI0195)
  • Independent study (BI0196)
  • Topics in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (BI0244)

Selected Publications

  • Baier, D.B., Gatesy, S.M. and Jenkins, F.A., Jr. 2006. A critical ligamentous mechanism in the evolution of avian flight. Nature Advanced Online Publication doi:10.1038/nature05435; print version 2007. Nature 445:307-310. (2006)
  • Gatesy, S.M., Middleton, K.M., Jenkins, F.A. Jr. and Shubin, N.H. 1999. Three-dimensional preservation of foot movements in Triassic theropod dinosaurs. Nature 399:141-144. (1999)
  • Jenkins, F.A.J., Jr., Gatesy, S.M., Shubin, N.H. and Amaral, W.W. 1997. Haramiyids and Triassic mammalian evolution. Nature 385:715-718. (1997)
  • Gatesy, S.M. and Dial, K.P. 1996. Locomotor modules and the evolution of avian flight. Evolution. 50(1):331-340. (1996)
  • Gatesy, S.M. 1990. Caudofemoral musculature and the evolution of theropod locomotion. Paleobiology 16(2):170-186. (1990)