Who am I?
I'm a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I use engineering software and medical imaging to answer questions about how salamander skulls function on both land and in water. I was previously a geologist/paleontologist, and through my experience at numerous museum across the country I'm well-versed in communicating science to the public.
What do I do?
Picture this: you want to design a completely new car from scratch, the safest care imaginable. Would you build every one of your ideas, using a lot of metal and your own time, and send them all to crash testing? No! You would simulate a crash in a computer model first to tell you which designs are probably best, and then you'd build the top 3-4 to test in real life.
I take the same approach to my research. Many salamander species are threatened or endangered. It would be irresponsible to collect wild animals to put them through experiments to see how their skulls work in real time. Instead, I use computer modeling to compare how much different skull shapes are able to withstand forces.
Why do we care?
Salamanders bite, burrow, and fight with their heads. But unlike our skulls, theirs are made of lots of cartilage - the flexible material in your ears and at the tip of your nose. Knowing how salamanders manage to do demanding things minimal skulls may inspire designs of our own, especially where it's important to use light-weight, flexible materials, as in prosthetics and other medical devices.
What skills do I bring?