Analyzing Organismal Motion for Bio-Inspired Engineering
I use cutting-edge technology to determine how biological structures function. My specialty is on the biomechanics of unusual forms of movement and locomotion. I analyze both living and fossil organisms, and 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 employ a variety of tools, such as 3D imaging, digital biomechanical modeling, behavioral experiments, and computational fluid dynamics, to develop new methodologies for visualizing and understanding organismal motion. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with engineers to design and build novel devices that are inspired by the insights from my work.
During my Ph.D., I investigated how brittle stars coordinate ~2500 moving parts for locomotion without a brain. I built 3D kinematic models that revealed brittle star musculoskeletal mechanics with scientists in the UK and collaborated with engineers in Japan to design robots that were resistant to damage based on the results from my research. I also developed the first data-driven, quantitative methodology for illuminating the locomotion strategies of fossil invertebrates through a case-study with a stylophoran, a fossil known as one of the “strangest-looking animals of all time.”
During my postdoc at Yale, I integrated 3D imaging, digital visualization and computational fluid dynamics to reconstruct the 3D morphology and functional elements of key fossil plant taxa, providing insights into major functional transitions in the evolution of terrestrial plants.
As a postdoc at Duke, I’m working with Sheila Patek as part of a DOD-funded research team to analyze the biomechanics of the fastest-moving organisms on the planet. As ultrafast organismal motion outperforms current engineering capabilities in terms of acceleration, efficiency and repeatability, our findings will be used to design the next generation of ultrafast synthetic systems.