PoSM Lab Biomechanics Research Published

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Mantis shrimp and trap-jaw ants are under close scrutiny in Mark Ilton’s Physics of Soft Matter (PoSM) Lab at Harvey Mudd College. Researchers are studying the biomechanics of the animals’ elastically driven movements and are developing a flexible modeling framework to simulate these movements.

“Our new model enables flexible definitions of the main mechanical components of these systems: springs, motors and latches,” says Ilton, who recently published a paper with his students in Integrative Organismal Biology. “We provided a derivation of our model and then used it to investigate the role of muscle dynamics in these systems.”

Andres Cook ’21, Kaanthi Pandhigunta ’23, Mason Acevedo ’22, Adam Walker ’22, Rosalie Didcock ’22, Jackson Castro ’22 and Declan O’Neill ’23 are Ilton’s coauthors on the paper, “A Tunable, Simplified Model for Biological Latch Mediated Spring Actuated Systems.” “Using our model, we found that two dynamic effects of muscle—the muscle force-velocity trade-off and muscle activation—have important consequences for understanding the biomechanics of these systems,” Ilton says.

The students were involved in all aspects of this work. Cook was part of the original conceptualization of the research and the initial development of the model, and the rest of the PoSM team performed further development of the model and created freely available software during remote-only summer research. All of the students were involved with writing and revising the manuscript.

Their work was supported by the Harvey Mudd College Physics Summer Research Fund, the N. Sprague III Experiential Learning Fund and the National Science Foundation.