From the beginning of my research career I have attempted to capitalize on previous training as an engineer to understand the evolution of the mechanical systems of animals. At the University of California Berkeley I was a Miller Research Fellow working on the mechanics of salamander walking and the jaws of a particularly unusual group of limbless amphibians called caecilians. While at UCB I worked with Pixar Studios on the movie ‘Finding Nemo’. I spent three years advising on animal movements and biological aspects of the film and was delighted when the hard work of the Pixar folks was so well received at the box office.
In 2001 I founded the Comparative Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of California and while there he won the Bartholomew Prize for physiology research from the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology and the UC Academic Senate prize for undergraduate teaching. In 2008 I moved to the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands. With students and collaborators I have published more than 90 articles in scientific journals on abstruse subjects including the heads of hammerhead sharks, the properties of skeletons and the difficulties of eating hard prey. I do my best to share my enthusiasm for the field of biomechanics, for a while with a monthly column that has appeared in Natural History Magazine (2000-2008) and now with occasional writing for other popular press outlets.
My current research takes advantage of the marine lab’s easy access to fish in their natural habitat. I am trying to understand how and why some fishes are sticky, how they burrow, and the relationship between skeletal structure and function. The tools of my research include CT scanning, prototyping, CNC milling, material testing, high-speed video, sonomicrometry, SEM, and physical and mathematical model building.