I am a PhD student based at the Structure & Motion Laboratory of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), studying spiders and robots! In day-to-day life, this means I study the phenomenon of autotomy in spiders. Autotomy is the ability to self-amputate legs to escape from predators, or in other life-threatening situations. In particular, I’m interested in how this affects their gait – how exactly do spiders move when they lose their legs? Do they continue as normal with just a missing leg, or do they adjust their whole control system to compensate? Does the solution depend on activity or species? And can we use this knowledge to develop more efficient legged robots that are better able to cope with damaged or missing legs in the field?
I study British species, such as the Pardosa wolf spider species, and Araneus diadematus – the common British garden spider. They’re (mostly) little, fast and fascinating! In return for constantly playing videos of spiders on my computer, and my bit of the lab occasionally being full of spiders, I do offer the arachnophobic lab members a year-round spider-removal service from offices, lab spaces, and cars, which I like to think makes up for it.
I’ve yet to start the robotic part of my PhD; I’m awaiting the delivery of a spider-robot to play with! Although I’m by no means a roboticist, I have ‘dabbled’ in robotics during my undergraduate degree. Luckily, one of my supervisors is from the Computer Science department of University College London, so I’ll be able to pick up some tips from him and his team.
I’m a biologist by training, graduating from a BSc Bioveterinary Sciences degree at the RVC. During this I became really interested in animal locomotion, taking research projects in the Structure & Motion Laboratory, investigating the effect of rough terrain on dog gait, and how cockroaches’ use their antennae for stabilisation. I thoroughly enjoyed research, and was lucky enough to start my BBSRC-funded PhD straight after graduating – but soon into my PhD I realised my favourite part of the job was talking to people about it! I am passionate about science communication, outreach, and generally bringing science to the masses. Talking about spiders (and robots!) is a great conversation starter, as people always have an opinion or a pre-conception that I’m more than happy to discuss. So come and chat about spiders, robots, and everything in between!
I’m on twitter @michelleareeve, and blog at There’s A Spider In The Bath!, where I post things about struggles and niggles of PhD life, as well as spiders.