Research

Research Overview

A central challenge for many organisms is the generation of stable, versatile locomotion through irregular, complex environments. Animals have evolved to negotiate almost every environment on this planet. To do this, animals' nervous systems acquire, process and act upon information. Yet their brains must operate through the mechanics of the body’s sensors and actuators to both perceive and act upon the environment. Our research investigates how physics and physiology enable locomoting animals to achieve the remarkable stability and maneuverability we see in biological systems.  Conceptually, this demands combining neuroscience, muscle physiology, and biomechanics with an eye towards revealing mechanism and principle -- an integrative science of biological movement. This emerging field, termed neuromechanics, does for biology what mechatronics, the integration of electrical and mechanical system design, has done for engineering. Namely, it provides a mechanistic context for the electrical (neuro-) and physical (mechanical) determinants of movement in organisms. We explore how animals fly and run stably even in the face of repeated perturbations, how the multifuncationality of muscles arises from their physiological properties, and how the tiny brains of insects organize and execute movement.

X-ray diffraction through living muscle

How does the action of millions of molecular motors enable muscle, nature’s most versatile material, to power movement? Actin (blue) ...
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Moths slow their brains to track flowers in low light

Hawkmoths, like Manduca sexta, hover and track moving flowers during natural foraging in  low light environments. Neural recordings from the ...
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How antennae encode mechanical stimuli for tactile navigation

In an earlier research project we looked at the how cockroaches use their antennae as to feel surface in front ...
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Simultaneous dimensionality reduction of motor commands and movement

Once a behaving organism has acquired, processed, and transmitted sensory information it must still alter patterns of motor activation in ...
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Control theoretic approaches to experiment and analysis of locomotion

Locomotion is an inherently closed-loop process. What that means is that when we move it changes how we perceive the ...
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How temperature makes moth muscle bifunctional.

Temperature is one of the most important variables affecting an animal’s physiology. Animal’s thermoregulate in a variety of ways from ...
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Precision phase control in flight muscles

The established perspective of flight control in insects holds that their remarkable maneuverability arises from neural modulation of relatively small ...
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Evolution of whale body size

How big were ancient whales? Body size is perhaps the most obvious functionally important feature of an organism, yet it ...
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An intact-limb workloop reveals how cockroach muscle changes function

Intact-joint workloop preparation for examining muscle function in situ to reveal how neural feedback combines with mechanics to change how ...
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Rewriting motor commands in a freely running animal shows the multifunctionality of muscle

What is the potential of a particular muscle to control locomotion and how does mechanics affect the control consequences of ...
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Gecko adhesive hairs gets stickier the faster they slide

Frictional (a) and adhesive forces (b) of a gecko’s adhesive foot pads increase with increasing sliding velocity. Negative force in ...
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Bio-inspiration from how cockroaches navigate by touch

Animals must sense their environment in order to navigate. American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana L.) in the natural world often face ...
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How roaches run on rough terrian.

We tested whether mechanical stabilization strategies without external sensing can yield successful locomotion in a challenging environment. In this study, ...
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Flexible multielectrodes for recording from insect muscles

Six distinct motor unit recorded across the 8 electrode sites when the FMEA is inserted in to the coxa of ...
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How do geckos stick to almost any surface?

It turns out that gecko feet are covered in millions of tiny hairs called setae. Each of these hairs branches ...
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