Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Biomechanics: Using physics to understand animals

I am developing an outreach activity that will bridge the gap between math and biology that I can perform for elementary and high school students, either when they come to visit the CSU guppy lab or for external events.  After discussing Sir Isaac Newton and his laws of motion, I talk about how we can use motion, specifically speed/velocity and acceleration, to understand differences between animals.  I then show them drawings of a largemouth bass and a bluegill sunfish and help them predict differences in swimming performance based on body shape.  To test those predictions, we analyze two high speed videos of these fish capturing prey.  Then we discuss our results and talk about how differences in swimming might contribute to differences in ecology and survival in different habitats (i.e. evolution).  I relate this to the current work here at CSU by talking about how guppies fit into this idea.  I have done this so far with high school juniors/seniors and 8th graders.  Special thanks to Dale Broder for inspiring me to create this activity using authentic science!

Discussing Newton's laws of motion
Forces acting on a fish (for some reason the camera made the image a rainbow)
Morphological differences between species

Students calculating velocity from still frames

Students calculating velocity

Thanks to Dale Broder and Katie Guilbert for photos!