The Architecture of Life

A hand holding elements of life

Our Research

Although organisms obey the same physical laws as inanimate objects the evolutionary implications of these laws are often neglected. Physical factors influence the fitness value of traits and play an important role in the course of evolution. Our research ignores disciplinary boundaries and is linked by the central theme of using physics and engineering principles as a way of understanding complex problems in biology. Our work is characterized by strong interdisciplinary, collaborative links across academic areas in the University, and by novel approaches to addressing questions at the interface between biology and physics.

Running and Jumping

Jumping insects provide spectacular examples of precisely manipulated speed, spin, energy and power.  In the blink of an eye, jumping insects catapult themselves toward targets and away from predators.  We study the mechanics of how various insects control the muscles, joints, and even springs, that they use to fling themselves through the air.  Our research is ballistic physics applied to living beings at high velocities.

Sensory Biology

How animals hear, see, smell and taste the world around them is a key determinant of their behaviour, and underpins how they respond to environmental change. We investigate the structure and function of animal sensory systems, by integrating experimental studies in the lab and field with computational models, and study how variation in sensory perception impacts on social and reproductive behaviour, ecological interactions, and evolution.

Biological Fluid Dynamics

Work in this area focuses around biological fluid dynamics at a number of scales, from the whole organism down to the level of cellular motility. We have been particularly successful at introducing physical thinking into our understanding of the evolution and function of sperm length and have provided key insights into the individual-level effects of environmental viscosity. We use theory, experiment and field studies to address a number of questions from how sperm swim, why bacteria have different shapes, and how bacteria respond to viscosity in their environment.

Dr Charles Deeming – Avian and reptilian reproduction

Dr Adrian Goodman – Plant biomechanics

Professor Stuart Humphries – Comparative biomechanics and biological fluid dynamics

Professor Fernando Montealegre-Z – Sensory biology, biomechanics of sound production and hearing in insects

Dr Marcello Ruta – Analytical evolutionary palaeobiology

Dr Tom Pike – Sensory and behavioural ecology

Dr Manabu Sakamoto – Phylogenetics, evolutionary palaeobiology and functional morphology

Dr Carl Soulsbury – Behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology

Professor Greg Sutton – Biomechanics, ‪jumping and ‪neural control.


Dr Òscar Guadayol – PDRF (Humphries), microscale viscosity gradients in the oceans.