Michael H. Dickinson

Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering
Sc.B., Brown University, 1984; Ph.D., University of Washington, 1989. Visiting Associate, Caltech, 2001-02; Professor, 2002-03; Zarem Professor, 2003-.

Research Summary

Complex and intellectually challenging problems can be so commonplace that they escape our attention. The research in my lab focuses on one such everyday phenomenon - the motion of a fly through the air. While the buzz of fly wings is more likely to elicit a sense of annoyance than wonder, insect flight behavior links a series of fundamental processes within both the physical and biological sciences: neuronal signaling within brains, the dynamics of unsteady fluid flow, the structural mechanics of composite materials, and the behavior of complex nonlinear systems. The aim of my research is to elucidate the means by which flies accomplish their aerodynamic feats. A rigorous mechanistic description of flight requires an integration of biology, engineering, fluid mechanics, and control theory. The long term goal, however, is not simply to understand the material basis of insect flight, but to develop its study into a model that can provide insight to the behavior and robustness of complex systems in general. Students and post-docs fascinated with any aspects of insect flight behavior, physiology, or evolution are invited to join my laboratory. What is more important than an interest in insect flight, however, is a love of complexity and a commitment to interdisciplinary approaches.


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