Anderson Evolutionary Biomechanics Lab, Spring 2022

Front row L to R: Julia Grzegorczyk, Abby Weber, Hannah Darcy.
Back row L to R: Brad Scott, Dr. Phil Anderson, Dr. Bingyang Zhang, Jules Chabain

Dr. Philip S. L. Anderson
I am an evolutionary biologist and paleontologist who studies comparative evolutionary biomechanics in both vertebrates and invertebrates. I received my PhD from the University of Chicago and a BA from Carleton College. My research involves experimental and theoretical biomechanical analyses in conjunction with evolutionary comparative methods on both living and extinct taxa to address how fundamental laws of physics influence evolutionary processes. This work is question-based and has involved a range of organismal groups from fossil fishes and early tetrapods to modern mammals and crustaceans. Current focuses include: combining kinematics and fracture mechanics to examine the evolution of biological cutting/puncture systems; biomechanical and morphological diversification in deep-time; and evolution of multi-part biomechanical systems.


Dr. Bingyang Zhang
I am a postdoctoral researcher in the department of Evolution, Ecology, & Behavior. I received my Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. My doctoral dissertation focused on the systematic characterization of fracture mechanics in soft, bio-compatible polymers via the method of cutting. My current research in the Anderson Lab focuses on examining questions of how physical and mechanical principles underlying the functional performance of biological puncture systems impact their evolutionary process. I am particularly interested in using a combination of fracture mechanics, comparative biomechanics, experimental impact dynamics, mathematical modeling, and computational simulation to quantify and generalize how shape, material, and kinematics variables influence the energetics of puncture.


Hannah Darcy
I am a Ph.D. student in Dr. Anderson’s lab in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior. I received my Bachelor’s from the University of Florida in Biology and Geology. For my Master’s thesis at East Tennessee State University I described two salamander fossils from the early Pliocene Gray Fossil Site in northeastern Tennessee. At UIUC I am pursuing a question that arose from my Master’s work – what impact does the skull morphology of salamanders have on their functional performance? I’m particularly interested in how this affects feeding in New World taxa as well as functional differences between aquatic and terrestrial forms.


Brad Scott
I am a PhD student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior focused on the early evolution of vertebrates, especially the transition from jawless vertebrates to jawed vertebrates during the Silurian and Devonian periods (440–360 million years ago). I am interested in using biomechanical analysis to test hypotheses of functional morphology as it pertains to the morphological differences between extinct jawless vertebrates and early jawed vertebrates. By studying functional morphology of early vertebrates I hope to determine the extent to which ecological niche expansion, competition, and/or environmental changes contributed to the success of jawed vertebrates during the jawless/jawed vertebrate transition. My current research is focused on changes in locomotion between jawless vertebrates and jawed vertebrates. My previous research has included three-dimensional kinematic analysis of feeding in modern suction-feeding sharks, and the taxonomy and description of new species of jawless vertebrates from the Lower Devonian (419–410 mya).


Jules Chabain
I am a Ph.D. student in the department of Evolution Ecology and Behavior. I graduated with a Master in paleontology in Montpellier (France) where I described 3 extinct species of stingray from the fossil record of Contamana (Peru). During an internship, I joined Friday Harbor Lab at UW on Scan all Fishes project where I learned multiple imagery softwares and developed interest in µ-CT scanning. My research at UIUC focuses on how shape influences function, describing performance of puncturing tools in nature. As a former paleontologist, I have a keen interest in evolution of morphological variation in animal weaponry. I am particularly interested in stingrays who’ve developed a defensive feature located on the base of their tails to protect themselves against multiple predators such as sharks, big teleosts, and crocodiles. I am seeking an understanding of the morphological variation seen in stingray spines and how ecological, phylogenic or biomechanical factors influence that variation using experimental, histological and comparative methods.

Abby Weber
I am a Master’s student in the department of Evolution, Ecology, & Behavior.  I received my Bachelor’s in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois as well.  My undergraduate senior project with Dr. Anderson focused on viper fang puncture systems, where I developed a static testing protocol with a materials testing machine.  My current research focuses on how the morphological variation in sharpness of wasp ovipositors influences function.



Dr. Stephanie Crofts (Post-doc 2017-2020)
Stephanie’s research focused on form and function in puncture tools across animals and plants as well as the mechanics and muscle physiology of trap-jaw ants. She is currently an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross.

Angelo Marra (Undergraduate researcher 2020-2021)
Angelo studied the evolutionary development of tail morphology in relation to ecology within multiple species of sharks.

Daniel Clark (Undergraduate researcher 2019-2020)
Daniel worked on puncture resistance in egg shells related to brood parasitism.

Jay Wilson (Undergraduate researcher 2019-2020)
Jay worked on scaling in head capsule morphology of three different trap-jaw ant taxa.

Alexandra Baumgart (Undergraduate researcher 2017-2018)
Alexandra studied linkage mechanics in fishes. She is currently a PhD student at Caltech.

Juliana Vidal (Undergraduate researcher (2017-2018)
Juliana was an undergraduate in the lab researching physical/acoustic signalling in Killifishes. She is currently in the Peace Corp.