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.

Determining the biochemical changes associated with feeding and flight

Animals are driven to move, seek food resources, or find mates based upon their physiological needs at a given time ...

How an ecologically-relevant odor affects visual motion processing

The function of a visual system is to condense and transform patterns of light into a form that is meaningful ...

Temporal encoding across a motor program for the hawkmoth’s agile flight

Animals perform a plethora of robust, agile movements in natural environments by actuating and coordinating many muscles. However, the nervous ...

within-wingstroke body motion affect on insect flight dynamics

Current quasi-steady models of insect flight often prescribe constant body dynamics during a wingstroke. However, many silkmoths and butterflies experience ...

The evolution of different strategies for agile flight

A wide diversity of wing shapes has evolved, but how is aerodynamic strategy coupled to morphological variation? Here we examine ...

The convergent evolution of blinking in mudskippers and tetrapods

Approximately 360 million years ago, tetrapods colonized the terrestrial environment. This water-to-land transition is marked by a suite of behavioral ...

Natural flower wakes present aerodynamic challenges to pollinators

Plants and their pollinators must interact with changing airflow while simultaneously interacting as individual organisms. For flying pollinators, this includes ...

Natural wing flexibility prevents leading-edge vortex (LEV) bursting

The leading-edge vortex (LEV) is a well-known flight mechanism used by flapping insects, but the interplay between the bound LEV ...

Centralization of Locomotor Control in Roaches & Robots

How do we assess the centralization of control in moving animals and machines and what are the consequences of changing ...

Moths change their behavior, but not their aerodynamics to feed in windy environments

How do moths maneuver in windy environments?Hawkmoths naturally hover and feed from flowers in nature. Insects have developed an assortment ...

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) ...

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 ...

How antennae encode mechanical stimuli for tactile navigation

In an earlier research project with Dr. Jean-Michel Mongeau (now professor at PSU) we looked at the how cockroaches use ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

An intact-limb workloop reveals how cockroach muscle changes function

In the previous project we altered the commands the cockroach's brain was sending to its muscle in real-time while the ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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, ...

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 ...

How do geckos stick to almost any surface?

Why back when Simon was an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark College his first experience with the research in biomechanics ...