Research team

Expertise

Working as a researcher at the laboratory for Functional Morphology, I study how the anatomy and mechanical properties of the body of animals is adapted to fulfil its functions. My main emphasis is to achieve fundamental insight into the biomechanics, and how this is influenced by variation in the anatomical components. The majority of my research focusses on the function of the head of vertebrate animals during feeding.

Inspired to Integrate: Filtering Nature's Diversity for Nature-friendly Implementations (Nature4Nature). 01/03/2023 - 28/02/2027

Abstract

Nature provides an almost inexhaustible source of inspiration for innovative designs that may help to tackle many of the world's current social, economic and environmental challenges. In accordance, the potential of bioinspiration (including biomimetics and biomimicry) has become widely recognized in academia and industry. The main hurdle preventing the field of bioinspiration from delivering its promises, however, stems from differences in tools, practices and viewpoints of its practitioners, often obstructing further development towards successful products. Nature4Nature, a unique joint effort of biologists, engineers, designers and manufacturers, will immerse young doctoral researchers (DCs) in a learning environment that fully spans the inspiration, integration and implementation aspects of bioinspired design to tackle the conceptual, methodological and practical challenges. It will provide DCs (a) with a mindset and know-how to harness biodiversity into design; (b) with the theoretical background and practical skills for transferring biological model systems into engineering designs and applications; and (c) with an attitude and competence to implement bioinspired ideas in an explicit sustainable way. Nature4Nature will focus its research activities onto one model system: how to efficiently separate solid particles from liquids. Biological filtration systems have evolved repeatedly over the earth's living history. Nature4Nature will teach DCs to make the most of this rich heritage, using it as an inspiratory source for designing and manufacturing high-throughput, clog-resisting filtering systems that can help conserving and restoring the world's aquatic habitats. By fostering a new generation of researchers operating at the interface between scientific disciplines, sectors and societal actors, Nature4Nature sets out to spur innovative practices and will aid in overcoming the barriers to implementation of bioinspiration in the design process.

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  • Research Project

Biomechanical analysis of manoeuvring in boxfish, a model for bioinspired design of autonomous underwater vehicles. 01/10/2022 - 30/09/2026

Abstract

Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are of prime interest for future development due to their versatile applicability in aquatic tasks. However, achieving sufficient hydrodynamic performance proves to be challenging. Since biological systems greatly outperform AUVs in manoeuvrability, there is a strong basis for bioinspired design. Boxfish (Ostraciidae and Aracanidae) are already recognised as excellent candidates to inspire a new generation of slow-speed manoeuvring AUVs. Their body consists of a rigid, bony encasing, the carapace, which is moved by action of their five fins. Several prototypes have been developed but the lack of fundamental, biomechanical knowledge on how boxfish execute their manoeuvres severely hampers advancements. The proposed study will first analyse the variability in hydrodynamic performance (i.e. drag force, static and dynamic rotational stabililty) among the large interspecific diversity of boxfish carapace shapes. Next, an in-depth analysis of manoeuvring dynamics in Ostracion cubicus will be performed by (1) quantifying 3D-kinematics of an extensive set of manoeuvres, (2) determining the complete set of inertial and hydrodynamic properties of the body, (3) determining the instantaneous force magnitude and vector orientation of the individual fins using state-of-the art techniques in computational hydrodynamical modelling, and (4) combining all above-mentioned knowledge to simulate a boxfish during manoeuvring through forward dynamics. This novel research will lay a solid foundation for future work to guide design decisions in translation to more efficient AUV prototypes.

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  • Research Project

Center for 4D quantitative X-ray imaging and analysis (DynXlab). 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2026

Abstract

This core facility integrates top quality infrastructure and unique expertise in X-ray imaging for the reconstruction, processing and analysis of dynamic 3D scenes. It utilizes complementary platforms for 4D X-ray imaging, including an ultra-flexible and multi-modal X-ray CT system (FleXCT) and a stereoscopic high-speed X-ray videography system (3D2YMOX). The facility offers customized services for image acquisition-reconstruction and analysis for both industrial and (in-vivo) biological studies.

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  • Research Project

The Cranial Musculoskeletal Mechanics of Granivorous Songbirds. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2024

Abstract

In granivorous songbirds, feeding performance is a major driver in the evolution of beak morphology. This is illustrated by several classical works relating beak shape to feeding ecology (e.g., in Darwin's finches). However, beak shape alone fails to provide comprehensive explanations for functional trade-offs between specific aspects of feeding performance, in particular those involving beak movement to handle seeds. We lack quantitative data on how the cranial system generates controlled three-dimensional movement of the upper and lower beak during the processing of seeds. To achieve a better understanding of the mechanics of granivory, I will investigate the musculoskeletal mechanics of the cranium during grasping, positioning, and dehusking of seeds in three species of granivorous songbirds that vary in beak shape and bite strength. Both experimental and computational approaches will be used, including high speed imaging, biplanar x-ray videography, mechanical testing of muscle and ligament properties, and multi-body musculoskeletal modeling. This study will provide unprecedented insight into the kinematics and dynamics of the cranial system. My findings will help to bridge fundamental knowledge gaps on avian cranial function, and also provide the biomechanical basis for understanding the relations between beak movement performance and evolution in songbirds.

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  • Research Project

Functional morphology. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

This funding will be used to initiate, develop, and support several lines of research on cranial biomechanics and performance trade-offs in vertebrate animals, as specified in my tenure track ZAPBOF application.

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  • Research Project

Individual variation in feeding behavior and mechanics in songbirds. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2024

Abstract

Sequences of precisely controlled, fast, three-dimensional movements of the upper beak and lower beak are used by granivorous songbirds to pick up, transport, reposition, crack, and dehusk seeds. The characteristics of these movement and the techniques that are involved, however, are currently unknown. The goal of this project is to quantify the feeding kinematics in a large number of individuals from a laboratory population of Canaries, Serinus canaria, to analyse the proximate (mechanical) causes of successful and fast seed processing, as well as to link individual variation to the effects of life-history traits such as age, sex, relatedness, seed type preference. This will provide us with fundamental insights that are important to identify morphological and mechanical adaptations to seed-eating performance in songbirds.

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  • Research Project

Optimisation and integration of experimental and modelling approaches to study the three-dimensional dynamics of the beak in songbirds. 01/12/2019 - 30/11/2025

Abstract

Beak function is of central importance in avian evolution, including the textbook examples of adaptive radiations in finches. To fully understand these adaptation processes, improved insight into the (bio)mechanics of beak movement is needed. This project aims at developing, optimising, and integrating experimental and modelling approaches to assess the dynamics of the cranial musculoskeletal system underlying the 3D movement of the upper and lower beak in a select number of songbird species, focussing primarily on the beak's role during feeding. Experimental approaches will include kinematic analyses using multi-view, synchronised high-speed videography and stereoscopic X-ray videography, and in vitro quantification of contractile properties of cranial muscles and tendons. Modelling approaches include the formulation and validation of mathematical models of muscle contraction, and numerical simulations of the moving head skeleton. These techniques will be optimised for their application to cranial systems of small birds, and implemented to improve our understanding of beak movement mechanics in birds. This research will provide the fundamental knowledge and analysis tools that will be essential in future comparative research projects on the evolution of form and function in songbirds.

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  • Research Project

Advancing three-dimensional biomechanical research by combining synchronized biplanar X-ray videos with multiview light videos. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Quantifying how animals move is an essential first step in studies aiming at understanding the form, function, and evolution of musculoskeletal systems. During the last decade, making use of X-ray videos recorded at high speed (> 500 frames per second) from two x-ray sources and detectors has proven to be a powerful tool to accurately analyze fast, three-dimensional movements. A cutting-edge, high-speed, biplanar X-ray video system has recently became available at the University of Antwerp, which will significantly advance functional morphological and biomechanical research in Flanders. However, quite often information on the movement of the external surfaces of the animals or their surrounding fluids is extremely valuable but cannot be measured by X-ray videos alone. The proposed research will integrate traditional (i.e., visible and infra-red sensitive) high-speed videography from two views into the three-dimensional analysis of kinematics with the existing biplanar X-ray video set-up. This will significantly advance the two ongoing projects: kinematics and hydrodynamics of feeding in fishes, and the early development of locomotion in pigs. In addition, this integration of X-ray and light videos will also be highly beneficial for the numerous collaborative research projects requiring X-ray videos that are planned in the upcoming years.

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  • Research Project

Support preparation ERC-application. 05/11/2018 - 05/11/2019

Abstract

This research aims at improving an existing grant proposal on the mechanics of beak movement in birds, and thereby preparing it for resubmission in a next round of grant applications from the European Research Council.

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  • Research Project

Integrated performance trade off in cichlid heads: feeding versus mouth brooding. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

This project tries to unravel some of the involved trade-offs, and will analyse the structural, functional and physiological trade-offs that exist in the buccal system of two closely related haplochromine species of Lake Victoria, both maternal mouthbrooders but representing two distinct trophic niches: a biter morph and a suction feeding morph. Trade-offs related to both sexual and trophic dimorphism will be studied in relation to mouthbrooding, with performance analyses to estimate the impact on survival and fitness.

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  • Research Project

Functional morphological analysis of terrestrial feeding in amphibious fishes 01/07/2010 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

Strikingly little is know about the evolution of a terrestrial feeding apparatus in the first terrestrial tetrapods. The purpose of the proposed research is to gain functional morphological insight in the way that the cranial and postcranial musculoskeletal system works during terrestrial feeding in extant amphibious fishes. This insight will form the basis to identify potential preadaptation to terrestrial feeding in the fossil record.

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  • Research Project

Research into the mechanics and hydrodynamics of the aquatic food intake. 22/02/2010 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

This research project focuses on the biomechanics of the feeding apparatus in fishes. The large diversity in cranial morphology in this group of animals is particularly intriguing. The most common strategy for fish to capture prey is by generating suction. They do this by rapidly increasing the volume of the mouth cavity, thereby drawing water and prey towards, and into the mouth. Although many fish species share this strategy to capture prey, evolution has resulted in a tremendous variation in the size, shape, and mechanical properties of the individual elements composing the complex heads of suction feeding fish. Understanding why we see such large morphological diversity in the feeding systems of suction feeders, despite that they are all subject to the same physical laws, is the overall goal of my research.

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  • Research Project

Flow around the carapace of swimming boxfishes (Ostraciidae and Aracanidae): interspecific variation and evolution of hydrodynamic characteristics 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Previous research showed that the carapace of boxfishes has exceptional hydrodynamic characteristics during swimming (low drag force, high potential lift force, stabilizing capacity). The aims of the proposed research project are to study the effects of interspecific morphological variation in the carapace on hydrodynamic performance via computational fluid dynamics, and to reconstruct the evolutionary history of these hydrodynamic properties.

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  • Research Project

Hydrodynamic analysis of different prey capture techniques in aquatic vertebrates via computational fluid dynamics (CFD). 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

This is a fundamental research project financed by the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO). The project was subsidized after selection by the FWO-expert panel.

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  • Research Project

Hydrodynamic analysis of suction feeding in fishes by means of computational fluid dynamics (CFD). 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

The suction feeding apparatus of fishes will be studied by using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) in order to gain functional insight into the consequences of variation in cranial morphology and head expansion kinematics on the induced suction flow. The characteristics of this suction-induced flow determines the performance of suction feeders in capturing prey, and is therefore of crucial importance for their survival. Fishes are undoubtedly one of the most morphologically diverse groups of vertebrate animals, and their cranial morphology often diverges considerably of what is considered as a "typical" fish head.

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  • Research Project

Hydrodynamic analysis of suction feeding in fishes by means of computational fluid dynamics (CFD). 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Our current knowledge and insight into the hydrodynamics of suction feeding in fish is limited to animals with a simple, rotational symmetric head shape. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD), a technique in which the calculation of numerical solutions for the 3D equations of motion are applied to a set of infinitesimally small volumes of fluid, allows us to study the process of suction feeding with more realistic head morphologies and kinematics of expansion of the buccal cavity.

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  • Research Project

Biomechanical and hydrodynamical consequences of variation in head morphology on suction feeding in fish. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

Fishes are undoubtedly one of the most diverse groups within the vertebrates. The cranial morphology of a vast number of species diverges considerably from the generalised fish "Bauplan". Striking examples of this are the seahorses and pipefishes (Family Syngnathidae), a group of extremely specialized suction feeders with a narrow gape at the end of a tubular snout. For fishes with such extreme morphologies, none of the assumptions of the existing biophysical models are justified. Therefore, the need for new analytical techniques arises. Consequently, this group is particularly suitable to study the function and constraints of extremely specialised suction feeding systems.

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  • Research Project