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My Research

Insect Feet + Biological Surfaces + Robots for Biology


Insect Locomotion and Adhesion

"It may be argued that to know one kind of beetle is to know them all. But a species is not like a molecule in a cloud of molecules - it is a unique population" -Edward O. Wilson

I am interested in insects because they are one of the most diverse and abundant groups of organisms on this planet. My PhD research focused on the large phytophagous beetle family known as Chrysomelidae. Their specialized relationships with plants have likely contributed to their increased rate of diversification, raising questions as to how particular adaptations to host plants evolve. Because their hosts range across flowering plants, including many monocots and dicots with differing and complex surfaces, chrysomelid beetles presented an opportunity to study and compare adaptive functional morphologies utilized for attachment. Looking through the lens of functional morphology and biomechanics, I explored the factors that contribute to the diversity seen in the physical structures of the beetle tarsus, while also analyzing how those adaptations influence movement.


Analyzing Biological Surfaces

"Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain" -Henry David Thoreau

When considering attachment and locomotion among such small organisms, substrates can play an important role in aiding or impeding locomotion. For example, plant surfaces exhibit a wide array of compositions and microstructures that could present a complicated topography for navigation. Structures on insect legs such as claws, spines and adhesive setae must make appropriate contact with the surface for effective attachment to occur. Therefore, accurately measuring the features of these biological surfaces is important when considering these interactions. During my PhD, I utilized scanning electron microscopy and different types of profilometry to evaluate microtopography of leaf surfaces. This fascination with organism/substrate interactions has continued during my postdoc as I am attempt to use imaging and engineering tools to recreate various biological surfaces for experimental studies.

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Robots for Biology

"If you had an alien race that looked like insects, then they would build robots to look like themselves, not to look like people" -Kevin J. Anderson

I’ve pursued research exploring multiple fields within STEM, including evolutionary biology, ecology, and biomechanics. However for my postdoc, I transitioned to engineering to leverage physical models and robotics as a means to investigate functional morphologies and locomotive strategies seen in the natural world. I work with the lab’s insect-scale ambulatory robot (HAMR) to test how combinations of insect-inspired structures (adhesive pads, spines, claws) enhance its locomotive efficiency across variable surfaces. In addition to enhancing overall function, this insect-scale model also allows the exploration of biological questions involving ground reaction forces, leg morphology/orientation and friction-based dynamics. My exploration of robotics-inspired biology has also translated to other projects in the lab including our flying microrobot (RoboBee) and the development of bio-inspired suction cups for aquatic robots.

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