How do living things work?
How do sea stars move their arms? How did the first seeds get pollinated? How did crabs evolve to live on land?
My research explores organismal form and function, i.e., the science behind how living things work. I analyze both living and fossil organisms to understand how organisms' anatomy and body systems evolve over time. I’ve worked on a range of topics from the mechanics of ancient reptile arms to how plants evolved the ability to move water up their stems. I answer these scientific questions by using state-of-the-art technology, such as 3D imaging, digital biomechanical modeling, and computational fluid dynamics to visualize and understand organismal function in new ways.
Left: 3D reconstruction of gills in the most complete fossil crab discovered to date, demonstrating the transition of crabs to nonmarine environments (Luque... Clark et al. 2021)
How does understanding organisms benefit society?
We can use insights from organisms to inspire new technology.
Brittle stars coordinate ~2500 moving parts for locomotion without a brain, making them a model system to inspire robotic control systems. During my Ph.D., I worked on the mechanics and control of brittle star locomotion and collaborated with engineers in Japan to design robots that were resistant to damage based on the results from my research.
We can apply our knowledge to solve important problems.
Insects are a critical vector in transmitting bacteria that causes diseases to plants that produce fruit like grapes, citrus fruits, and olives. As a postdoc at UC Berkeley, I lead a project funded by the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture to study the biomechanics of how insects feed on and infect grapevines with bacteria that cause the lethal Pierce's Disease. These insights will be directly applied to help curb the spread of plant pathogens and improve agriculture yield worldwide.
Right: 3D image of a blue-green sharpshooter, revealing internal anatomy that the insects use to feed on plants and spread bacterial pathogens.