UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Professor Paul Upchurch

Professor Paul Upchurch is UCL Earth Sciences' new head of department. Read his spotlight to find out more.

Prof Paul Upchurch

4 March 2019

Paul Upchurch studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, specialising in Zoology. After several research fellowships in Cambridge and Bristol, he joined UCL as a Lecturer in 2003. He was promoted to Professor in 2014 and became Head of Department for Earth Sciences in July 2018.


Paul is a vertebrate palaeobiologist specialising in the evolution of dinosaurs and other terrestrial animals. Part of his work focuses on the gigantic sauropod dinosaurs (e.g. Brontosaurus, Diplodocus etc.) which include the largest terrestrial animals known. Some of these sauropods reached estimated body masses of around 70 tonnes – this poses some interesting biomechanical challenges with regard to weight support, locomotion, feeding and reproduction. More generally, Paul is interested in methodological and theoretical issues relating to the evolution of life. In particular, he works on the methods used to reconstruct the Tree of Life, and how such ‘family trees’ of organisms can be used to investigate evolutionary patterns and processes. Some of Paul’s best known work has examined the complex interactions between the physical world (plate tectonics, sea level, climate) and evolutionary patterns across multi-million year time-scales.

Paul lost a substantial portion of his vision at the age of eight: consequently, much of his education and all of his academic career has taken place while dealing with a severe visual impairment. He copes with work via a range of assistive technologies, help from a personal assistant, and collaborations with colleagues – and it is helpful that many of the fossils he works on are extremely large! As a result of his experiences in life generally and academia specifically, Paul has recently become involved with trying to improve the representation of disability among students and university staff, especially with regard to STEM subjects. He is a member of the Diversity Committees of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (USA) and The Royal Society. Paul is currently heading a subgroup of the Royal Society Committee that is focusing on commissioning research into how to support the careers of people in stem with disabilities, and how to raise their profile so that they can provide role models. Paul says – “I’m certainly enjoying the opportunity to help people and give something back to the wider community. It feels like I had to break a lot of new ground during my education and career, so it would be great  if my experience can help break down some barriers and create a smoother path for others.’