Integrative approach to studying penguins, cockroaches and little hairy noses makes comparative biomechanics group at UC Berkeley the nation's best

At San Diego's Sea World, Rodger Kram videotapes penguins waddling across a force-measuring platform to rate the energy efficiency of their distinctive gait. Meanwhile, at the University of California, Berkeley, Claire Farley tapes bright dots to the legs of students and videotapes them running across a similar platform to determine the relationship between muscle stiffness and springy legs.

Across campus, Robert Full tests cockroaches, crabs and centipedes to discover how springy legs provide stability, while down the hall, Steven Lehman stretches rabbit muscle fibers to find out how they work as brakes and springs as well as motors.

Michael Dickinson tracks blowflies in a test chamber to determine how feedback from their eyes affects the flight muscles and ultimately allows spectacular maneuverability. And Mimi Koehl builds foot-long models of lobster antennules to learn how these crustacean noses pluck odor molecules from the water swirling around them.

These half-dozen UC Berkeley professors in the Department of Integrative Biology comprise the largest and most diverse group in the country studying how animals -- including humans -- move.

What has emerged from the comparative biomechanics group at UC Berkeley and from their associates around the world are a set of principles that apply to animal locomotion of all kinds, whether it's running, swimming, flying or wriggling. As Koehl has found, these principles even apply to movement not associated with locomotion - with sampling the environment, capturing food or just trying to stay put in the face of wind or water currents.

Earlier this month, the UC Berkeley team summarized key findings from more than a decade of research at UC Berkeley and elsewhere in a review article titled "How animals move: an integrative approach," published in the journal Science (4/7/00).

Such principles are not merely academic. Full, Koehl and Dickinson, for example, regularly share information with engineers

Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley

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