LCSR Seminar: Henry Astley “Using Robotic Models To Explore The Evolution Of Functional Morphology”
Living organisms face a wide range of physical challenges in their environments, yet frequently display exceptional performance. The performance is often correlated with morphological features, physiological differences, or particular behaviors, leading to the hypothesis that these traits are adaptations to improve performance. However, rigorously testing adaptations is extremely difficult, as a particular trait may be suboptimal due to lack of selective pressure, subject to tradeoffs and evolutionary constraints, or even be entirely non-adaptive. Furthermore, it can be difficult to even truly determine the function of some traits, as they may not be amenable to experimental manipulation or comparative analysis. However, techniques and tools from engineering are allowing biologists to test the functional consequences of previously untestable physical and behavioral traits and even explore the performance consequences of alternative versions of traits. This can led to a broader understanding of the trait itself and the evolutionary pressures acting upon it, past and present. This talk will use several examples of how 3D printing and robotics have been used to establish the functional consequences of enigmatic morphologies and behaviors in snakes, early tetrapods, and fish, and demonstrate the power of these techniques for providing biological insights.
Henry Astley is currently an Assistant Professor at University of Akron’s Biomimicry Research & Innovation Center (BRIC), working on animal locomotion and biomimetic robotics. Dr. Astley initially completed a B.S in Aerospace Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology before switching fields and completing a second B.S. and an M.S. in biology at the University of Cincinnati, focusing on arboreal snake locomotion. Dr. Astley did his Ph.D. on frog jumping at Brown University, followed by a postdoc at Georgia Institute of Technology focusing on locomotion in granular media.