14th August 2017 – Inés Dawson, University of Oxford

Ines DawsonInés is a final year interdisciplinary DPhil student at the University of Oxford. Her research, with a strong background in biological sciences, involves studying the biomechanics of insect flight, specifically how an insect’s flapping wing and body kinematics translate into the complex aerial manoeuvres performed during free flight. This combination of biology and engineering is aimed at inspiring the next generation of bio-inspired MAVs.

Apart from her research, Inés is also an award-winning science communicator in English and Spanish and runs two YouTube channels, Draw Curiosity and Inés-table, in order to make science stories interesting and internationally accessible. She is an enthusiastic and engaging educational speaker who enjoys informing and entertaining audiences of all ages and nationalities about different aspects of science.

In addition to her personal science communication work, she has also collaborated with BBC World Service, Discovery, Merck and Naukas to help put a human face on scientific research.

http://youtube.com/DrawCuriosity and http://youtube.com/Inestable and http://drawcuriosity.com


27th February 2017 – Alex Evans, University of Leeds

alex-evansHi Biotweeps! My name is Alex and I’m a final year PhD student studying animal locomotion at the University of Leeds. My research is largely focused on integrating the mechanics and energetics of avian flight, but I also dabble in insect flight and terrestrial locomotion. I tend to work with small parrots such as budgerigars and lovebirds, but I’m a big fan of birds in general and will jump at the chance to work with any species!

My research generally involves looking at the mechanics and energetics from both the organismal level and the muscular level, so some days I will be training a flock of cockatiels and others I will be working with single muscle fibres. I’m also interested in the behavioural and aerodynamic aspects of flight, and hope to develop more skills in these areas in the future.

Prior to my PhD, I undertook an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation, which was also at the University of Leeds. My dissertation project focused on the risks posed by pesticides to British pollinators. I got to do some super fun fieldwork working with farmers and solitary bees, and this experience pretty much set me on the course towards starting my PhD.

Outside of the lab, I’m always looking to get more involved with science writing and STEM outreach activities. I have recently written articles for the Society of Experimental Biology and Biosphere magazine, and I enjoy presenting and discussing my research with a wide range of audiences. During my week of curation, you can expect to hear more about my work with birds, bees and beetles, as well as discussions about animal research ethics and methods of science communication … and hopefully we’ll have a little fun too!

I can often be found posting animal GIFs and preaching about tabletop games on Twitter at @alexevans91 and I blog about birds and bioscience topics over at BirdBrainedScience.

23rd January 2017 – Lisa Whitenack, Allegheny College

lisa-whitenackI am a biology professor at Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college in northwest Pennsylvania (USA). I teach a wide array of courses, including introductory biology, statistics, evolution, paleobiology (the study of fossil organisms), and research seminars. My research is focused on predator-prey relationships through evolutionary time, encompassing paleobiology and biomechanics (the application of principles from engineering and physics to biological problems). The majority of my research has been on fossil and living sharks, especially focusing on their teeth, as that is what roughly 95% of their fossil record is. I want to know why fossil shark teeth (up to 250 million years ago) are shaped the way they are, and why they are so different than modern sharks. I also study other fishes, crabs, snails, and salamanders.

My students are required to complete a senior thesis in order to graduate. Most of my students study things that are different than my research, as they are passionate about different things, but still use the techniques that I use. My students have examined the prey capture mechanics of venus flytraps, the evolution of trilobites across mass extinctions, the effects of the Endangered Species Act on the shape of wolf skulls, and the biomechanics of sports such as soccer, baseball, and long jump.

My second area of scholarship is on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, from kindergarten through college.  I coordinate partnerships and events between Allegheny College and my local school district to improve STEM education in my community. I am also a member of the Gills Club, an outreach group that gives girls opportunities to engage with projects focused on sharks, nature, and the environment.

My Ph.D. is in biology, with the wonderful Phil Motta at the University of South Florida. I stayed at USF, but moved up to geology for a postdoc with Greg Herbert. Before USF, I earned my M.S. in geology at Michigan State and my B.S. in geology at the University of Illinois. I grew up just outside Chicago, and even though Meadville is now home, sweet home Chicago still has part of my heart.  My husband and kids (3 & 7 years old) help me maintain that whole work-life balance thing. We craft, we play outside, we build Lego, and we embrace our geekery.

You can follow me on Twitter: @WhitenackLab

My blog: https://whitenacklab.wordpress.com/

My website: https://sites.google.com/a/allegheny.edu/whitenack/

July 13th 2015 – Phil Cox, University of York

Philip CoxI am a lecturer at the University of York where I am member of both the Hull York Medical School and the Department of Archaeology (although really I’m a zoologist!). From my PhD onwards, I’ve worked on a wide variety of mammals spanning most of the mammalian family tree, but recently my research has focused down to one group that I find particularly fascinating – the rodents. To me, rodents are especially worthy of study because of their huge success in evolutionary terms (they are the largest group of mammals by a long chalk) and because of their highly derived and specialised feeding system.

Much of my research has concentrated on understanding the biomechanics of feeding in different rodents, extant and extinct. This is an exciting area of research at the boundary of biology and physics. As a dyed-in-the-wool life scientist, I never imagined my research would include physics, but it’s a fascinating field of research to be in. I use complex bioengineering techniques to virtually model rodent skulls and understand how they perform during feeding. This has allowed me to see how living rodent species are specialised for different activities, and to make predictions about the ecology of extinct rodents.

I have also been involved in the development of contrast-enhanced microCT – a scanning technique that uses iodine staining to enable the visualisation of soft tissues with microCT. I have used contrast-enhanced scans to describe the chewing muscles of rodents and reconstruct them in 3D. This technique is gathering quite a community of users now and we’re hoping it will become a standard methodology in morphological sciences.

During my week on biotweeps, I will be tweeting about rodents – why they are so successful as a group and why they are so interesting from a research perspective. I will also tweet about the computer modelling and contrast-enhanced scanning that I am currently doing, with lots of exciting images and reconstructions. If you want to know more about my research, visit my website www.drphilcox.com or follow me at @drphilcox .

November 10th 2014 – Adam Summers, University of Washington

Adam SummersFrom 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.

August 25th 2014 – John R. Hutchinson, Royal Veterinary College

The text below is taken from John’s staff bio page at the RVC:

JohnHutchinsonI’m a biologist originally from the USA who now resides in the UK as a dual citizen. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin in 1993, then obtained my PhD in Integrative Biology at the University of California (Berkeley) with Kevin Padian in 2001, and rounded out my training with a two-year National Science Foundation bioinformatics Postdoctoral Fellow at the Biomechanical Engineering Division of Stanford University with Scott Delp.

I started at the RVC as a Lecturer in Evolutionary Biomechanics in 2003 in the Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, and I was promoted to Reader in 2008, then Professor in 2011. My interests are in the evolutionary biomechanics of locomotion, especially in large terrestrial vertebrates. I’ve studied birds, extinct dinosaurs and their relatives, elephants, and crocodiles. See the sidebar for more about my research, team, publications and external collaborations/memberships.

I am an Associate Editor for Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), and the new open access journal PeerJ journal. From September 2012-2013 I was a Senior Research Fellow funded by the Royal Society Leverhulme Trust. I have won the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology’s Romer Prize (2000), am an elected Fellow of the Linnean Society and Society of Biology, and was awarded the Charles Darwin lecture at the British Science Festival in 2012 as well as the RCVS Share Jones Lecture in Veterinary Anatomy in 2011. I am an executive committee member in the International Society for Vertebrate Morphology. I was an external examiner for the University of Manchester’s MRes programme in Biomechanics, and frequently advise my own MSc students in the RVC’s Wild Animal Biology programme, or can supervise MRes projects (contact me to discuss).

My team’s current research projects include:

  • The biomechanics and pathology of mammalian feet.
  • The locomotor biomechanics and ontogeny of chickens; also emus and other birds.
  • The evolution of terrestrial locomotion in early tetrapods .
  • Locomotor evolution in dinosaurs (including Tyrannosaurus and birds), crocodiles, elephants, giraffes and other groups .
  • The evolution and biomechanics of sesamoid (tendon-anchoring) bones in vertebrate limbs.

Science communication is a major priority for my team’s work– science is fun, inspiring, and vital to society –and we like to share the joy! I use Twitter (@JohnRHutchinson) and my personal blog “What’s in John’s Freezer?” to help further this goal. Additionally, my team’s research is frequently featured in the international media, having been covered in hundreds of print/web stories since 2002. An example of my online work is The Conversation UK’s popular blog article “The science of anatomy is undergoing a revival”.

I was a consultant on Theropod Biomechanics at the American Museum of Natural History’s “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” (12 May 2005-January 2006) exhibit, now travelling to other museums. I am the Chief Paleontology Advisor for the wonderfully interactive “Be the Dinosaur” exhibit currently touring museums in the USA: http://www.bethedinosaur.com

I have been featured in at least 9 TV documentaries since 2004, including T. rex: Warrior or Wimp? (2004; BBC2), The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs (2005; BBC1; Dinosaur Face-Off in USA), Evolutions- Dino Turkey (2008; National Geographic Channel), Dino Gangs (2011; Discovery Channel), How to Build a Dinosaur (2011; BBC4), Nature Shock (Giraffe) (2013; Channel 5 and Smithsonian), Secrets of Bones (2 episodes, 2014; BBC4), Fossil Wonderlands (2014; BBC4), episodes of Discovery Channel-Canada’s Daily Planet, and other programmes worldwide. I also was a featured researcher in 2 episodes (elephant, crocodile) of documentary Inside Nature’s Giants BAFTA-award winning programme (Channel 4 UK; also National Geographic Channel’s Raw Anatomy) and have been a regular consultant for this and other documentaries (frequent requests; often paid in official role).