Biomechanics and Neural Control of Locomotion
I study the biomechanics and neural control of swimming in fishes. My research addresses two broad questions. First, how do fishes produce the forces that propel them forward and enable them to maneuver so effectively? And second, how do they control their locomotion in the face of a complex and variable environment? The ultimate goal of this research is to develop general principles to understand how fishes swim and maneuver stably yet effectively, and how these principles have affected the evolution of the body plan of fishes and vertebrates as a whole.
Like all vertebrates, fish produce their regular swimming motion through sets of neurons in the spinal cord called central pattern generators (CPGs). CPGs produce most basic rhythmic motions, including swimming, walking and flying, without the necessity of control from the brain. Outside of laboratory experiments, however, CPGs do not produce such rhythms in isolation; they are modulated by sensory input and the biomechanical properties of both an animal's body and its external environment. These two layers form a feedback loop: as the CPG sends output to the muscles, it changes its own input from the senses and the external environment.
I use both experiments and mathematical modeling to address questions of how fishes produce stable, effective locomotion, and how different fishes have evolved different body shapes and control strategies, adapted to differing evolutionary pressures. Ultimately, such questions may lead to insights into neural prosthetics, treatments for spinal cord injury, as well as the design and control of man-made submersibles. I am also a member of the Tufts Soft Material Robotics IGERT program, a training program that helps students develop the interdisciplinary collaborations necessary to apply the biological principles to soft robots.
The Tytell laboratory is accepting graduate and undergraduate student researchers interested in neural control of locomotion, biomechanics, or fluid dynamics of swimming in fishes, to start in the fall of 2016. Please contact Dr. Tytell for more information.