New country, new science, new year!

2022 was a year of transition. I received a post-doc fellowship at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands to study cuttlefish biomechanics and develop new soft robots. We moved in July and are still working to settle in here in NL.

The research has been altogether new and fascinating. I’ve been mentoring undergraduate students while they work on theses in our lab. The Dutch University system is significantly different than the US system in that students must complete a thesis that requires them to do actual science. Often it is their first time doing real experimentation and data analysis outside of a textbook.

Students in the lab have been researching several topics related to cuttlefish:

  1. The function of the sucker ring, a hard proteinaceous ring that grows a bit like a fingernail from the rim of the cup. What’s it doing in there? In the more-derived squid, they manifest as “teeth.” Do they serve a purpose in cuttlefish?
  2. The dynamic viscoelasticity of cuttlefish tissues. We have found that these tissues are far more elastic (and viscous) than any artificial biomimetic silicone materials. How can we build robots with even more elastic membranes?
  3. How do these suction cups stick to rough textures and surfaces of varying hardnesses? Are these cups able to adhere to textures that artificial suction cups cannot? And, if so, how do they do it?

And more recently, one student has been investigating the allometry of stick insect adhesion using frustrated total internal reflection imaging–a cool technique that allows us to visualize the exact surface area of the insect’s adhesive pads–coupled with real-time force measurements as we yank them off the substrate.

This spring I hope to transition to measuring cuttlefish swimming kinematics. They have lateral fins and a propulsive jet that allow them to move in any direction (and moment) with ease. How they do this remains a mystery–one I hope to solve in the coming months.

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