I am interested in understanding how different animals, particularly invertebrates, perceive sounds and also vibrations. My research uses different experimental techniques like laser vibrometry and 3D uCT imaging, and couples them with physics and mechanics based modelling to understand how these two types of mechanosensory systems function.
My research aims at understanding the different mechanisms used by these sensory systems to adapt to their ecological needs and achieve high sensitivity. An obvious mechanism is structure, both of the sensor itself and also of the whole body that that sensor is embedded in.
I am also particularly interested in a unique physiological mechanism called 'active amplification' that only some mechanosensory systems possess. In insects this process works through the sensory neurons which expend their own energy to actively amplify incoming sounds and the resulting vibrations. This amplification occurs through the activity of motor proteins within these neurons. This is a unique process for many reasons, and not least because it blends the sensory with the motor. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about these categories themselves, about whether and when they are useful to consider as separate.
I also occasionally work in sound and vibration production, since much of the experimental and theoretical apparatus is the same. One area of sound production that I am particularly interested in is the use of acoustic tools and objects. I've shown that simple insects like tree crickets can make optimal tools and that optimization is achievable using a small set of rules. In the future, I want to examine this cognitive system further. I also want to explore the possibility that the size of such 'rule-sets' might be a better way to think about the complexity of animal tools and objects.