Anthropology alumna is helping next generation of researchers at Harvard
Kristi Lewton has a long history with anthropology. As a child, she was intrigued by fossil bones. She attended paleontological digs and cleaned fossils at a natural history museum. By the time she was in high school, she knew she wanted a career in anthropology.
While at the University of Washington, Lewton took courses in hominin paleontology and conducted her first anthropological research. She then moved on to graduate studies at Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
This past December, Lewton graduated with a Ph.D. in anthropology and accepted a post-doctoral role as preceptor in Harvard University’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology.
As a preceptor, Lewton will continue her research but also focus on undergraduate education.
She explained, “I am excited about this new role because it allows me to make a positive difference in the educational opportunities of undergraduates, and it also allows me to incorporate undergraduates into my own research projects, which I hope will give them the opportunity to think critically and independently about scientific research.”
Lewton’s area of specialty is the primate pelvis and its relationship to locomotion.
Her dissertation focused on building and testing a biomechanical model of the primate pelvis, which is important because it informs researchers’ understanding of how the pelvis functions and allows them to generate hypotheses about how the pelvis should be adapted to different types of locomotion. She then measured pelvic bones at museums around the world to determine whether primates that differ in the type of locomotion they use also differ in the shape of their pelves. Lewton found that the influences on pelvic shape are complex, and locomotion, body size and evolutionary relatedness all seem to play a part in the final product. Her current goal is to tease apart these puzzle pieces to understand how each aspect may influence bony adaptation of the pelvis.
Lewton is also working on a project to determine the effects of variation in hip width on the metabolic cost of bipedal walking. She is excited about pursuing new avenues of research on the evolution of human and non-human primate locomotion using Harvard’s renowned research facilities and resources.
Yet she fondly looks back on her student days, particularly her field school work in Ethiopia, where she surveyed a paleontological site with the late Charlie Lockwood and ASU associate professor of physical anthropology Kaye Reed and professor of geology Ramon Arrowsmith.
“My years at ASU were some of the best,” she said. “I had the opportunity to go to the field to survey for fossil hominins, to travel the world to collect data on primate skeletons and to work interdisciplinarily with researchers in other ASU departments.”