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Anthropology
2021 Project Proposal

The Gibbon Brain Project

Zachary Cofran (Anthropology)

Project Type - B - Flexible:  It will be in-person if we are allowed to have URSI students on campus, but it will become a remote project if not.

Gibbons are a diverse group of primates, represented by over a dozen species living throughout Southeast Asia today. These “lesser apes” are relatively understudied compared to other primates, such as monkeys which are more distantly related to humans, or the Great Apes which are more closely related to humans. Nevertheless, gibbons are a compelling group for understanding human evolution.

This project will examine variation in gibbon brains, as represented by “endocasts,” which record the impressions of the brain and overlying soft tissues onto the internal surface of the bony skull. In addition to brain endocasts, we will also study the bony labyrinth, which captures the shape of the organs of hearing and balance within the inner ear.

Students will use “virtual anthropology” methods, first to create a database of digital endocasts and labyrinths, produced from computed tomography (CT) scans of skulls, as well as digital models of actual brains produced from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. We then will use this dataset to test various hypotheses, such as whether brain shape better reflects adaptation or evolutionary history. Results of this research will provide new information about these endangered apes, as well as aid interpretation of the human fossil record.

Prerequisites: Students who have taken biological anthropology courses will be given priority, though students of all backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

How should students express interest in this project? To express interest in this project, mention it explicitly in your URSI application, including what relevant experience you have and how the project fits with your interests and long-term research or career goals.

This is an 8-week project running from June 7 – July 31