Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: University of Bristol
Dates: Dec 2014-Nov 2019
Summary: I have two research focuses, both which involve the on the physics that governs interactions between insects and plants. The first of these is the electrostatic interactions between bees and flowers. Not only do electrostatic interactions between the flower and the bee help move pollen to and from the bee, a bee can detect the electric field generated by a flower and use that electric field information to differentiate between flowers. I have recently discovered that bumble bees use very sensitive body hairs to detect electric fields. Because many insects have body hairs similar to a bumble bee, there is a possibility that the ability to perceive electric fields may be an ability possessed by many many insects.
The impact of the electrostatics research is three fold: Firstly, electrostatic interactions are important to agriculture; and already certain farmer crops employ electrostatic methods to aid in pollination and attracting pollinators. This research adds to that literature. Secondly, this research seeks to approach the currently unanswered question “do human generated electric fields like power lines affect pollinators?”. And lastly, this research opens up a new way of thinking about insects – which is fascinating both scientifically and to the public.
My second research focus is the underlying physics of how insects generate their powerful jumps. My work on the mechanics of grasshoppers, froghoppers, mantises, and the other photogenic jumping insects has provided prototype designs for jumping robots. In addition, these amazing jumps have been shown in multiple nature specials.
Both research focuses expand what is known about the insects that we see in parks and gardens. In general, I aim to change how people see the insects around them every day.