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?
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.