Biomechanics of extreme animal movements

Certain biological organisms use elastic energy to drive repeatable, ultra-fast motion. For example, some species of mantis shrimp can accelerate their hammer-like appendages 10,000 g's of acceleration, reaching speeds of up to 65 mph (underwater!). These organisms outperform engineered systems of a comparable size, and therefore provide an opportunity to guide improvements in micro-robotics. We have recently uncovered some of the key mechanical principles of these types of organisms using a simplified model. Typically, slow muscle contractions store elastic energy into spring-like elements. A biological latch is used to hold the energy and mediate a sudden unloading of the spring-like elements, delivering energy at extraordinary rates that circumvents power limitations of direct muscle-driven motion.

In this project, we will work with our collaborators in biology, materials science, and robotics to further develop our model of spring-driven biomechanics. We will apply this model to biological case studies that include different species of mantis shrimp. We will also use the model in parallel with small jumping robots to uncover principles of robotic design applicable to these systems.


Essay Prompt - What interests you about this research and what do you hope to get out of the research experience?

Name of research group, project, or lab
Physics of Soft Matter Lab (PoSMLab)
Why join this research group or lab?

You will be part of a team of 6 HMC students working on a set of related projects at the intersection between physics, materials science, biology, and robotics. You will collaborate with other research groups in these disciplines across the country (collaborators at Duke, Carnegie Mellon, University of Hawaii, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), and you will get the opportunity to regularly present your work to a larger team. Collectively, we are working on understanding these ultra-fast elastic systems, which will have impact in the fields of evolutionary biology and micro-robotic design.



Representative publication
Logistics Information:
Project categories
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

This research is accessible for all academic levels and requires only some introductory mechanics and computer programming to start. 

Helpful coursework includes (but not requirements): Ph24, Ph50, Ph111; CS 5, CS60, CS70, CS 144/MATH 164; E79; BIOL101

The most important qualifications are a curiosity about the natural world and an appreciation for multiple scientific disciplines.



Time commitment
Fall - Part Time
Academic Credit
Number of openings
Techniques learned

Some skills and techniques that you will develop include: numerical/computational methods, model development, data processing, mechanical properties measurements, high speed videography, scientific communication.

Contact Information:
Mentor name
Mark Ilton
Mentor email
Name of project director or principal investigator
Mark Ilton
Email address of project director or principal investigator
1 sp. | 0 appl.
Hours per week
Fall - Part Time
Project categories
Biology (+2)