WILLIAM MARSH RICE UNIVERSITY
All animals rely on the integration of sensory, postural and environmental information to generate complex motor behaviors such as swimming, diving or flying. This collaborative project will study how the nervous system transforms information gathered by the senses into motor commands, based on the biomechanical properties of the muscles as well as the mechanical and environmental constraints imposed on the body by the outside world through the laws of physics. A favorable model system to study these complex aspects of behavior is the generation of collision avoidance maneuvers in flying insects, as much is known about their nervous system and the aerodynamic mechanisms underlying insect flight. The three research teams that will collaborate on this project are based at Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University and the University of Arizona and will bring complementary expertise in neurophysiology, advanced computer modeling, and aerodynamic engineering, respectively. This work will provide a comprehensive description of in-flight collision avoidance in response to visual threats and will thus contribute to an integrated understanding of the basis of complex sensory-motor transformations underlying behavior. The new insights that will be gathered over the course of the work could be applied to the design of real-time artificial vision systems and collision avoidance systems for various vehicles. This project will also provide research training at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels by creating opportunities to gain interdisciplinary research experience. Students and research associates involved in the project at Rice University will learn more about computational aerodynamics, fluid-structure interaction modeling, and data visualization and animation.