About Dr. Bonnan

Dr. Matthew Bonnan, Ph.D.

Dr. Matthew Bonnan, Ph.D.

Since the tender age of 5, I have been fascinated by dinosaurs.  It was never so much the treasure-hunter aspect of paleontology that attracted me to this science, but rather the thrill of reconstructing long-dead animals and breathing life into old bones.  In other words, I am a zoologist and anatomist at heart who happens to be fascinated by dinosaurs.  I see dinosaurs as living animals, and I want to reconstruct how these animals moved and behaved when their bones were still pulsing with blood.

To get a bit technical, my research combines traditional descriptive and anatomical study with computer-aided morphometric analysis and modeling of vertebrate skeletons. The focus of my research is limb functional morphology in dinosaurs, as well as the broader locomotor and evolutionary implications of size. I am particularly interested in the evolution and locomotor adaptations of the giant, terrestrial sauropod dinosaurs. These long-necked herbivores attained sizes no other dinosaurian or mammalian group has ever approached on land; part of sauropod success as giants may be tied to limb morphology and specializations.

On a bit of a philosophical note, as I tell my children and students, nothing worth doing in life is easy.  That is certainly true for the field of paleontology.  I have been fortunate in having parents who supported my dreams even though they were not scientists or academics, and that helped tremendously.  I was also fortunate to marry another academic who understands the quirkiness and obsession of this type of career.  In fact, paleontology and academics in general tend to be less of an occupation than a vocation.  You pursue this type of career because you love it.

There is a saying that working at making your dreams reality takes the work out of the courage, and I certainly follow that philosophy.  As with many of us who go into basic scientific research, there were many personal and professional challenges to overcome, and I’m sure the future holds more of the same.  However, I wouldn’t have it any other way: I feel lucky and grateful to be someone who has their dream job.  My role in the discovery of two new dinosaurs has been one of the greatest, recent rewards of this career, and my inner 5-year-old very much approves.

And now, the vital statistics:


  • Associates of Science (Earth Science), College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL, 1993
  • Bachelors of Science (Geological Sciences [Major], Biological Sciences [Minor]), University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, 1995
  • Ph.D. (Biological Sciences), Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, 2001

Professional Positions

6 thoughts on “About Dr. Bonnan

  1. Hello Matt,
    I was looking for you at your old site and to my surprise found out you are moving east. A lot has changed since the last time I emailed you. I hope this will give you an opportunity to come up to New York for a visit. Let me know what your new email address will be. I know you were working on a book. How is that coming along? Hope to hear from you soon.


  2. Dear Dr. Bonnan,

    I have a question about Haversian canals, as pertains to dinosaurs. When alligators are raised in commercial farms with unlimited food supplies and elevated temperatures, they grow and mature nearly as fast as mammals. Do they exhibit increased Haversian canal formation in their bones under these circumstances?

    Many thanks,
    Lewis Coleman

  3. Hello, Dr. Bonnan!
    I saw your book “The Bare Bones” reviewed in “Prehistoric Times” and my husband got it for me for Christmas. You had me from the preface as soon as you mentioned Leonard Radinsky. I had the privilege of taking a Mammalogy graduate level class with Dr. Radinksky in the late 70s at U of Chicago and from that point on fell in love with form and function in vertebrate skeletons. I’m currently enjoying your book, but came across a puzzle.
    On page 147 you wrote “not all tetrapods have a vomeronasal organ (including humans)…” It was not clear from the phrasing — did you mean humans don’t have one or they do? In your index under “vomeronasal organ,” you refer to pages 401 (no VNO discussion found here, a page number typo?), 405 (where you discuss the Flehman response) and 439 (discussing the VNO evidence in a fossil mammal) as the only citations about mammalian VNOs. From this it seems you mean that humans don’t have VNOs. Yet Lyall Watson’s “Jacobson’s Organ and the Remarkable Nature of Smell” cites several papers from 1991-1996 demonstrating that humans do have a biologically active VNO. Has this body of work been discredited, or is it just outside the scope of your book?
    Thanks for continuing Dr. Radinsky’s legacy of inspiring fascination with “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful”
    Judy Molnar, M.Sc.

    • Hi Judy,

      First, thank you for the kind words about my book. You are correct — the VNO was a bit beyond the scope of my book, and I was always taught that it was absent in catarrhine primates, including humans. In another update/addition, I will be sure to reference this better as the presence of a VNO and its function are still somewhat controversial and I sort of glossed over this. A recent review of the issue can be found with Smith et al. (2014) where they appear to suggest that if the VNO is present in humans it is essentially non-active: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.23035/pdf But thank you for pointing me toward other literature on this topic! As you can imagine, in writing the book I did, I was out of my comfort zone in some topics (I am certainly no expert on the VNO!) but did my best to make sure what I said was accurate and up-to-date.

      I wish I could have met Dr. Radinisky, but I am glad to have met someone who had direct contact with him! Thank you also for your feedback on my book. Please stay in touch!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s