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Comparative biomechanics of insect flight

Project Description

We are seeking a PhD student to join the Comparative Biomechanics group in the Faculty of Biological Sciences at University of Leeds. Insects are the most diverse of all animal classes, coming in an astounding array of shapes and sizes. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for their incredible success is their aerial ability, which evolved hundreds of millions of years before birds and bats. However, we still have a limited understanding of how differences in morphology translates to differences in flight behaviour. The aim of this PhD will be to use a comparative approach to understand how insects generate and control the movements of their wings during flight. The output will allow us to understand how natural selection has shaped the flight motor across different species, while also providing insight for bioinspired micro air vehicles that aim to replicate animal flight.

The successful candidate will record the wing and body movements of insects during free-flight using a newly built state-of-the-art setup. This incorporates up to ten high-speed cameras to capture multiple views of flying insects so that the corresponding high precision 3D movement can be calculated with using automated techniques. The project will produce the most comprehensive and extensive database of insect flight ever created and will serve as an invaluable future resource. Depending on the candidate’s background and interests this data can be taken in many different directions, including investigating insect flight dynamics, aerodynamics, neurological control, and mechanical modelling. The PhD is therefore open and will suit candidates from a wide range of fields, including zoology, biomechanics, neuroscience and engineering.

The PhD will be jointly supervised by Dr Simon Walker (lead supervisor) and Dr Graham Askew (co-supervisor). Please contact Dr Simon Walker () for informal enquiries.

Supervisor websites:

Funding Notes

This PhD will be funded directly by University of Leeds
It is a 3.5 year fully-funded PhD, covering:
• Research Council Stipend
• UK/EU Tuition Fees

Please apply online, selecting PhD in Biological Sciences, and include a CV and transcript.
View Website


Bomphrey, R. J., Nakata, T., Phillips, N. & Walker, S. M. (2017). Smart wing rotation and trailing-edge vortices enable high frequency mosquito flight. Nature. doi; 10.1038/nature21727

Walker, S. M., Schwyn, D. A., Mokso, R., Wicklein, M., Müller, T., Doube, M. Stampanoni, M., Krapp, H. G., & Taylor, G .K. (2014). In Vivo time-resolved microtomography reveals the mechanics of the blowfly flight motor. PLOS Biology. 12, e1001823. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001823

Walker, S. M., Thomas, A. L. R. & Taylor, G. K. (2012). Operation of the alula as an indicator of gear change in hoverflies. J. Roy. Soc. Interface 9(71), 1194-1207. doi:10.1098/rsif.2011.0617

How good is research at University of Leeds in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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