Principal Investigator

Andrew Spence
Biography

After an undergraduate degree in physics at UC Berkeley, I moved to Ithaca, New York, to do a PhD at Cornell University in Applied and Engineering Physics. My thesis work was on microfabricated devices for biomedical engineering with Prof. Mike Isaacson, but at Cornell I became enthralled with the worlds of neurobiology and neuroethology through working in the lab of Prof. Ron Hoy.

Prior to coming the RVC, I went back to UC Berkeley as a postdoc, first studying antennal mechanoreception with Prof. Eileen Hebets, and then the neuromechanics of locomotion in the PolyPEDAL Laboratory with Prof. Bob Full, where the appeal of neuroethology turned into an addiction when I discovered the field of biomechanics. At the RVC, I found that vertebrates are pretty cool after all, and that their macroevolution turns out to have been pretty darn interesting. I started out in the Structure & Motion Laboratory as a Postdoc with Prof. Alan Wilson, looking at how horses handle different surfaces, and using them to examine the limits to maximum performance in legged animals. In 2007 I was awarded an RCUK Research Fellowship, which is a tenure-track, research focused award that provides a stable transition from postdoc to tenure-track faculty.

In November 2013 we made the move back to the US: I took up a faculty position in the Department of Bioengineering at Temple University in Philadelphia. The move is an exciting opportunity to set up group dedicated to tackling both the big scientific questions in neuromechanics and the engineering challenges that are required to answer them.

Teaching

I thoroughly enjoy teaching, mentoring, and learning from students at all stages of their careers. I'm particularly interested in inquiry based learning, based on principles from the Perry and Nelson framework of cognitive development. I believe that confronting students with the difficulty of making discoveries in a laboratory setting is an avid stimulator of mental growth, and is one of the best ways to promote higher level thinking.

My CV can be downloaded here.

My PhD thesis can be downloaded here.

Contact information:
Andrew Spence
Department of Bioengineering
College of Engineering
Temple University
1947 N. 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Phone: +1 215-204-3056
Email:

Postdocs

Simon is interested in the pressures and constraints that cause animals to switch between gaits in the way they do. While we have a strong understanding of why particular gaits are used in particular conditions and at particular speeds, transitions remain something of a mystery. Occurring over a short period of time, and of little cost energetically when compared with performing a suboptimal gait, one can see how a landscape of new pressures and constraints could exist in the fleeting period between steady states.

Traditional analysis techniques are poorly equipped to describe the temporally rich structure of a transition. As a result a key component of Simon's research is integrating and extending bleeding edge methods of gait description including tracking techniques and phase extraction.

A further key component of Simon's research is delivering algorithms which can be readily transferred to robotic systems, which both informs my analysis of gaits and transitions, and leads to new control ideas. An exciting upcoming project will take the new control strategies divined from our answers to questions about gait and gait usage, and applying them the robot hexapod X-RHEX Lite.

Contact information:
Email: swilshin@rvc.ac.uk
Structure & Motion Laboratory
Hawkshead Lane
Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA
UK

I completed my undergraduate education at Emory University in 2008, where I a Bachelor’s of Science in Applied Physics. During my time there, I was fortunate enough to get involved in several undergraduate research projects, including development of a biologically inspired sand-swimming robot, and the development/application fuzzy logic algorithms in single molecule FRET experiments. After completing my undergraduate education, I worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in their division of Brain Dysfunction and Blast Injury from 2008 to 2010. This work centered on the development of experimental models of blast-induced closed head traumatic brain injury. During my time at Walter Reed I learned the ins-and-outs of aseptic surgical techniques and neural instrumentation. I also assisted in the development of software for automated seizure detection and pathology scoring. My undergraduate work in bio-inspired robotics and post-bac work with neural instrumentation, signal processing, and trauma led me to the Human PoWeR Lab in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University where I completed my PhD in August of 2014. My doctoral work focused on revealing neuromechanical factors underlying preferred patterns of movement in humans, and mechanisms of adaptation to assistance from a wearable robotic exoskeleton. In September 2014 I joined the Spence lab at Temple University. During my time here, I intend to combine my continued interest in neuromuscular biomechanics and neural interfacing with emerging technologies in the field of optogenetics. My ultimate goal is to develop novel closed loop approaches to synthetic neuromuscular control, as well as probe the role that neuromechanical reflex plays in response to perturbation in steady-state overground gait.

Contact information:
Email: tuf84240@temple.edu
Department of Bioengineering
College of Engineering
Engineering Building Room 823, 1947 N. 12th St.
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122

PhD Students

Anna is interested how animals use sensory feedback during locomotion. Her first project has asked whether and how horses use feedback from the distal limb during walking and trotting locomotion. She is currently analysing a large set of kinematic data from horses walking and trotting on a treadmill, before and after applying a temporary nerve block to the forelimbs. Anna's larger thesis project is to address how the use of sensory feedback during locomotion varies with animals of different size and body shape. This work has consequences for our basic understanding of the neural control of locomotion, and in the Veterinary Profession.

Contact information:
Email: aliedtke@rvc.ac.uk Office +44 (0) 1707 666425
Structure & Motion Laboratory
Hawkshead Lane
Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA
UK

Michelle Reeve
Michelle did her undergraduate research projects with the group on questions of gait adaptability and neural feedback in locomotion, respectively. Her second year project looked at the gaits of dogs on rough terrain: and came to the fascinating conclusion that at walking speeds dog gait moves toward trot on the rough. She followed this up with a study of cockroaches running on a rough terrain treadmill. Here, she found that antennal feedback does not appear to stabilise the cockroach locomotion, suggesting that other mechanisms provide stabilty.

Congratulations to Michelle! She has just won a studentship on the London Interdisciplinary Biosciences PhD Program! And now Michelle has joined the Spence and Daley groups to do her PhD on multilegged gaits in spiders and robots. She'll be working to understand how spiders maintain robust locomotion in the face of losing legs, and then programming a Robugtix T8X robot with the control architectures she quantifies in the animal.

Contact information:
Structure & Motion Laboratory
Hawkshead Lane
Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA
UK

Annie Vahedipour-Tabrizi
Annie has just joined the Spence Lab at Temple in Bioengineering, and is focusing on locomotor questions in mice, alonside development of light delivery technologies to answer locomotor questions using optogenetics.

Contact information:
Department of Bioengineering
College of Engineering Engineering Building, 1947 N. 12th St.
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Undergraduates

Christian David Valenti
Christian Valenti is currently an undergraduate Electrical Engineering major at Temple University. He is originally from Binghamton, NY. His interests include robotics, computers, controls, and automation. He is currently assisting Dr. Spence in the development of an actuated treadmill system that can perturb running cockroaches and mice. He also plans to help carryout canine controller robot experiments collectively with Dr. Spence and the Kod*lab at UPenn using the XRL hexapedal robot.

Contact information:
Department of Bioengineering
College of Engineering Engineering Building, 1947 N. 12th St.
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Alumni

Caragh Kelleher
Caragh did her undergraduate research projects with the group on the control of quadruped locomotion on soft surfaces, and on the dynamics of insect running with and without antennal feedback. Caragh looked at dogs trotting on surfaces of four different stiffness, and make the interesting discovery that dogs, unlike humans, do not appear to stiffen their (virtual) leg spring. This has interesting consequences for biology and engineering--dogs may not stiffen their legs because their are inherently much more stable in pitch.

Contact information:
Structure & Motion Laboratory
Hawkshead Lane
Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA
UK

Jack Porteus - Undergraduate
Jack did his undergraduate thesis work on gait transitions in dogs. Jack asked whether the way that dogs change gaits, specifically between the walk and trot, is significantly better described by a model of the animal that includes consideration of static stability, than one that simply takes the shortest trajectory between the gaits. He found that this was the case. Jack won a place on the Veterinary Medicine course at Nottingham University, and is currently pursuing his qualification there.