The research in our lab has been fortunate to receive a great deal of National and International Media attention, and a few interesting examples are provided below. We adhere to the notion that researchers in any Scientific endeavor should be cognizant of how their work relates to broader issues in human society.
For all media personnel: Contact Duncan J. Irschick (413 545 1696; e-mail: irschick "at" bio.umass.edu)
Oddball" Science has proven worth say UMASS Amherst Biologists. From the UMASS press release "Writing in a recent issue of BioScience, researchers Patricia Brennan, Duncan Irschick, Norman Johnson and Craig Albertson argue that “innovations often arise from unlikely sources” and “reducing our ability to creatively examine unique biological phenomena will ultimately harm not only education and health but also the ability to innovate, a major driver of the global economy.”
The invention of GeckskinTM named as a top five Science Breakthrough for 2012 by CNN
UMass team invents super Gecko glue that can hold 700 lbs on smooth surfaces: In this research, published in the february 2012 issue of the journal Advanced Materials, Bartlett et al show how integrating key elements of gecko anatomy, namely an elastic syntehtic "tendon" and "skin" dramtically increases adhesion in a synthetic device on smooth surfaces. The collaboration inlcuded Al Crosby, a Polymer Scientist from UMass Amherst, and Duncan J Irschick, a functional morphologist, who has studied gecko adhesion for over 20 years. This reaserch could have profound implications for many human applications, ranging from construction to medicine. Read more about it in these articles in Wired Magazine, The Daily Mail, and SmartPlanet.com!
Research by Duncan Irschick and colleagues on rapid evolution in island lizards featured in a new NSF-funded series on climate change: In this new series, currently being aired on the Research Channel (check here for local listings), Duncan Irschick was selected to be among 55 experts on climate change, ranging from documenting how climate change happens, to the implications for plants, animals, humans, and the earth's ecosystem. Our work on rapid evolution in lizards was inlcuded as an example of how animals can rapidly evolve new physical structures or properties to novel environments, raising the question about whether animals can adapt to a changing world. Check it out!
Research by Duncan Irschick and colleagues on how geckos can adhere to surfaces was featured on the Discovery Channel (see preview)! In this series, entitled "Weird Connections", the Discovery Channel explores the remarkable world of biomimetics; how animal design inspires construction of synthetic designs that can benefit humans and our environment. In this particular series ("How sticky is your gecko?"), they explore how some of Irschick's early research on how much force geckos can derive from their toepads began a race to understand the mechanisms of lizard adhesion, and how it can be applied in a peaceful and useful manner.
New research suggests differences between hammering perfomrance for women and men in fully lit versus dimly-lit environments: In a recent talk at the annual Society of Experimental Biology meetings in Glasgow 2009, Duncan J. Irshcick, along with students Suellen Almeida and Justin Henningsen, and colleague Jeff Lockman from Tulane, presented preliminary data showing intriguing differences between how women and men modulate force and accuracy during hammering on a force platfrom. This research showed that, on average, women tended to be more accurate than men in fully lit conditions, whereas men were more accurate in dark environments. While this is very preliminary, this finding suggests that interesting differences in either behavioral strategies and/or visual/physiological differences could exist between men and women that could affect many kinds of high force-accuracy motor tasks. You can read about some of the media attention generated from this work in these articles from FOXNEWS.com, MSNBC.com, Science Daily, and Scientific American.
Listen to a podcast from Scientific American Magazine on our research on human performance and hammering!
Tree lizard’s quick release escape system makes jumpers turn somersaults: New research published by Professors Gary Gillis of Mt. Holyoke College, and Duncan J. Irschick of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, as well as undergraduate Lauren Bonvini, in the Journal of Experimental Biology reveals that when lizards lose their tails, they also lose stabiliity when jumping, showing dramatic and previously unknown costs to this predator-escape system.
If you've ever tried capturing a lizard, you'll know how difficult it is. But if you manage to corner one, many have the ultimate emergency quick release system for escape. They simply drop their tails, leaving the twitching body part to distract the predator as they scamper to safety. Up to 50% of some lizard populations seem to have traded some part of their tails in exchange for escape. This research showed that when lizards who had lost their tails (which happens naturally, as noted above), they are unable to effectively jump off a high platform. Everything about the tailless lizards' take off was exactly the same as it had been before they lost the appendage. Things only started to go wrong as they left the jump stage. The lizards began flipping back by more than 30 deg; some tumbled so far that they landed on their backs (see video of a lizard jumping without a tail here in an article posted on Wired magazine.com). For a video showing a lizard jumping with a tail, click here. The team also realized that as the animals took off, they raised the base of their tails as the rest of the appendage trailed along the ground, as if it was somehow stabilizing the take off. This research suggests that the natural behavior of tail loss, so crucial for allowing lizards to keep from being an immediate meal, also comes at a severe cost that likely impairs their ability to effectively move around their habitats [excerpts taken from the below AAAS Eurekalert].
We are also now a youtube hit (well, we won't be competing with Barack Obama anytime soon, but we have gotten~ 12,000 views!). You can listen to an interview with collaborator Gary Gillis (quicktime) with host Bob McDonald on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's Quirks and Quarks
You can read a summary of this research in these stories from Science Daily, and the Toronto Star, as well as the original story from the AAAS Eurekalert!
Rapid radiation of performance and a novel structure: Recent work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that large-scale divergence can happen within human life spans. This work (the first author was former postdoc Anthony Herrel), examined how lizards intentionally introduced onto Croatian islands 36 years ago have rapidly evolved a new gut structure and biting ability in response to increased consumption of plant matter. This is the first documented example in which a major novel structure evolves over human spans, and casts a very different view of evolution than the "slow and gradual" ideas that are usually discussed.
You can read more about it in this press release from UMass Amherst, and also these stories from Science Daily and National Geographic News and also from a recent article in the New York Times (see the section on Croatian lizards) which each summarize the most exciting research coming out each week
Listen to a podcast describing recent work on rapid evolution in island lizards From the AAAS radio show!
A tale of genital mutilation, sex, and enhanced performance: This work examined an amazing story of how male spiders overcome an evolutionary constraint (overly large genitalia) by voluntarily ripping one of them off, and hence, running much faster to chase after females!
This research with undergraduate Margarita Ramos and collaborator Terry Christensen (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ) received media attention from a variety of sources, including an article in Natural History, Science News online, Science News magazine, Wissenschaft-online (a German online news group), NPR, the BBC, and the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC, click here for an interview on this topic).
Listen to a radio interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about research on how spiders volunatarily rip off their genitals and run twice as fast!
Leaping lizards; Might as well jump! Jumping is a dynamic event that requires large amounts of muscular power, and his difficult to control. Research in our laboratory showed that anole lizards have remarkable abilities to modify the angle of their jumps, and thereby greatly diminishing associated costs of jumping, such as excess height and duration. This research suggests a far greater degree of control than previously believed for dynamnic movements. You can read about it in this article Outside JEB
Tracks in the sand: animal movement, lizards, and sand-blowers: This research used sand-blowers to literally "wipe the desert clean" and allow us to then carefully track animal movements in a manner never seen before. This work by D. Irschick and Bruce Jayne was featured in this neat (great pix!) article in Natural History
Adhesive power of gecko feet revealed : In 1996, Duncan Irschick, along with a team of researchers, was able to provide the first published accurate measurements of the amazing adhesive abilities of gecko feet using a custom kinetic force platform. This work was at the forefront of modern studies that have attempted to synthesize gecko hairs for a myriad of purposes. You can read more about this work, and the subsequent work that followed in this American Scientist article
For fun, you can also read here about some of the funnier turns of doing research in evolutionary biology, and getting involved in efforts to combat the rise of creationism