Simon d’Haenens, University of Leuven
This June, for about two weeks, the streets of Urbino were filled with foram-enthusiasts for obvious reasons... With its 5th installment, the renowned International School on Foraminifera attracted many students and professionals from Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and the USA, eager to learn about these awesome little critters. Students included people at various stages in their academic careers (bachelor to post-doc level) as well as industrial micropalaeontologists. Their interests spanned the entire stratigraphic record, from Cretaceous to Recent. Organized by Fabrizio Frontalini of the University of Urbino and Mike Kaminski of the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Miner- als, and under the auspices of, and with sponsorship of the Grzybowski Foundation, this
course provides a state-of-the-art overview on foraminifera and their use in biostratigraphy, ecology, (palaeo)environmental reconstructions, climate studies and modern applications of benthic foraminifers in anthropogenically impacted environments. These topics were presented by Mike and Fabrizio, with the assistance of several guest lecturers: Laia Alegret (University of Zaragoza, Spain), Claudia Cetean (Fugro Robertson Limited) and Maria Rose Petrizzo (University of Milano, Italy).
The picturesque medieval city of Urbino is draped atop a hill, providing stunning panoramic views of the foothill landscape surround- ing it. Undoubtedly equally beautiful is the local architecture and art: as a World Heritage Site, Urbino is known for its exceptional legacy of independent Renaissance culture under the patronage of Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino in the 15th Century. Low cost accommodation for applicants was provided in the modern and luxurious Collegio Internazionale located in the city centre, only a stone’s throw away from the Piazza della Repubblica, which can be considered as the social hub and main “gelato” provider of Urbino. Speaking of food, although the campus had a great cafeteria, many students opted to explore the numerous marvellous restaurants in the city centre, as recommended by some more-experienced members. The on-campus accommodation had many benefits: not only did it allow for intense professional networking and fruitful discussions to be continued after-hours, but it was also an ideal way to meet up to go for dinner, amble around town and its surrounding fields, watch the European Football Championship games or explore the infamous local pubs at night.
The course itself consists of two parts, one dealing with benthic and the other with planktic foraminifera. They can be regarded as two separate entities that function independently, but most participants opted to follow both. Each course was constructed in a similar way, with lectures in the morning and microscope sessions in the afternoon. The lectures started off with basic taxonomic and morphological concepts, only to quickly delve into more complex matters, well illustrated with many case studies taken from the literature and personal experiences of the lecturers. This clever con- struction of the course made sure that it appealed to both amateurs as well as veterans in the field. The interactive and spontaneous nature of the classes was also reflected in the fact that students got the opportunity to present personal work, complementing the topic of the day. The microscope sessions were set up as an independent study time, but always ended up being interactive with lots of discus- sions and cooperation among students and lecturers. Samples from the lecturers’ extensive personal reference collections were available, as were reprints of a plethora of classic papers and books. This allowed for each student to fine-tune their skills or to do their personal work, which ranged from thesis research to industry-based applications.
The much-anticipated fieldtrip, which took place on the second day of the planktic course, was conceived to illustrate the fascinating geology of the Marche-Umbria region. In the morning, the stops included the Jurassic carbonate platforms and the Ammonitico Rosso near the Gola del Furlo, and the Contessa road section including the Bonarelli event (Oceanic Anoxic Event 2; OAE2) and the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). After having lunch in the gorgeous city of Gubbio, the fieldtrip resumed, with the next stop on our itinerary being the Bottaccione gorge. Here, the famous K/Pg boundary described by Alvarez and colleagues prompted a spontaneous photo shoot moment. The last stop of the fieldtrip was the lovely Gorgo a Cerbara section, a proposed GSSP for the Barremian/Aptian boundary including the Selli anoxic event (OAE1a). After this exhausting yet incredibly satisfying day in temperatures soaring to 40°C (so I have been told), it was time to sit back, relax and once again experience the wonders of Italian cooking at the social dinner. Set in a refurbished farm that has been converted to a brewery, we enjoyed our meals whilst “enduring” Mike’s and Rodolfo Coccioni’s epic karaoke rendition of “Volare” and ‘That’s Amore”. What a splendid way to end a wonderful day! I’m convinced that, at the end of the ten-day course, people new to the field of foraminifera left with a firm grasp on the concepts used in foraminifera-based research, while veterans had the opportunity to refresh, expand or polish their knowledge. But perhaps more importantly, the school has acted as a catalyst in forging new professional bonds and, manifest- ed by the many emotional goodbyes on the final day, lifelong friendships as well, which can only be beneficial for the foram community in the future. ISF...highly recommended!