As Professor of Mathematical Biology, I lead the research of the Oxford Flight Group. Trained originally as a biologist, but working at the crossover of biology with engineering, my research focuses on problems in guidance, navigation, and control, with projects spanning birds, bats, insects, and air vehicles. My research aims to identify – and understand – the fundamental organizational principles that emerge from the interaction of physics and physiology which characterizes all life. My work is characterised by its combination of experimental, computational, and theoretical approaches, which together provide a formal systems-level understanding of the organisms we study. My newest research uses deep learning and other AI approaches to provide a novel framework for answering fundamental biological questions that is also in a form ready for technological application. My particular research interests in sensory physiology and evolutionary biomechanics are closely reflected in my teaching interests, which range from the Origin and Evolution of Tetrapods, through to Sensory Ecology and Physiology. As committed to education as to research, I hold the Peter Brunet Tutorial Fellowship in Biological Sciences at Jesus College. Outside of my research and teaching, I serve as Deputy Head of the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division at Oxford, and as Associate Head for Estates and Capital. Within my own Department, I am Associate Head of Zoology (Grants and Finance), and Director of the John Krebs Field Station, Wytham. I also work closely with government and industry to deliver biologically-inspired technological impact from our research.
I have spent over 10 years studying animal behaviour, and joined the Oxford Flight group in 2011. I have always been fascinated by birds, and after completing my DPhil on the attack strategies of birds of prey (including training my first Harris' hawk!), I took up the position of Postdoctoral Research Assistant in bird flight on the HawkEye project in 2016. My research uses computational modelling to analyse empirical data on the guidance strategies of Peregrine Falcons, Gyr Falcons and Harris' Hawks intercepting artificial targets and wild prey. So far, I have used onboard instrumentation and high-speed photogrammetry to measure their flight trajectories in the field. My future work will predominantly use a motion capture system indoors and outdoors, for filming more intricate details of the pursuit flights of Harris' hawks, and to determine how they implement their guidance strategy visually. In my spare time, I pursue my passion for birds as a C-permit ringing volunteer on behalf of the BTO. I also love to visit nature reserves and head to the hills with my mountain bike!
My research is on bird flight, currently as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant on the HawkEye project focusing on how birds manoeuvre around and between obstacles. I have a broad interest in flying animals (insect, bats, birds, pterosaurs, etc.) and the morphological adaptations that have evolved to achieve unique flight mechanics. After completing my studies in aerospace engineering (aerodynamics), I found my way to this fascinating interface where biology and physics meet. For my PhD in Lund, I looked at the aerodynamics of bird flight, particularly in the wake of a jackdaw that I trained to fly in a wind tunnel. I am very fortunate to be given the opportunity to continue studying animal flight from up close, capturing the detailed movements of Harris' Hawks flying in our flight arena.
Indira Nagesh is a control engineer now working in the Oxford Flight Group to understand the control architecture of flies.
Lydia France was a DPhil Student on the BBSRC Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP, and is now continuing her work as a post-doc. She currently researches perching flight behaviour in birds, studying the mechanics of aerodynamic braking to better understand how morphing wings are used to slow airspeed. She also investigates how birds guide their flight to their landing target, and how perching flight behaviour is learnt in young birds. She works with captive birds of prey– a Steppe Eagle and various Harris' Hawks – as well as filming Blue Tits and Great Tits in the wild. Lydia regularly performs improvised comedy in Oxford with the Oxford Imps in her spare time.
As a DPhil Student and Oxford-NaturalMotion Scholar at Queen's College, my research focuses on the Hemiptera. This insect order, which includes cicadas (Auchenorrhyncha) and stink-bugs (Heteroptera), represents one of the most successful insect radiations, occupying virtually every terrestrial and freshwater habitat. Vibrational and acoustic signaling in Hemiptera has expanded more than any other insect order, used in communication, courtship, defence and prey acquisition. The mechanisms generating these signals include tymbal buckling, abdominal tremulation, percussion and stridulation. Unfortunately, our knowledge on the internal structure of Hemipteran vibrational organs is very poor, making comparative studies difficult. This situation prevents us from establishing key patterns regarding the evolution of vibrational and acoustic signals in this important group of insects. From a behavioural perspective, Heteropteran vibrational communication converges in many points with that of their sister group, the Auchenorrhyncha. However, the latter are characterized by more specialized vibratory behaviours, while chemical communication is reduced or absent. In contrast, most Heteroptera have greatly expanded their chemical repertoire and rely on multimodal signals to stimulate the receiver by as many communication channels as possible. Using state-of-the art technology such as synchrotron microtomography, as well as more traditional techniques such as electron microscopy and histological methods, I aim to uncover the evolution and morphology of Hemipteran vibrational organs, and determine how the latter interact with cuticular structures to generate vibrations. My results will hopefully contribute to the fields of insect morphology and systematics, as well as provide a morphological framework for biotremological studies on this group of insects. I am honoured that my DPhil is funded by a scholarship from The Queen's College, by proceeds from the sale of the Oxford spin-out company NaturalMotion, and by the Onnassis Foundation. My other scientific interests include taxonomy of Hemiptera and Dictyoptera.
As a DPhil student and Christopher Welch Scholar, I explore how flying animals construct their own realities. I concern myself with space, and in what way fliers create a concept of this to have a consistent determination of their translational and rotational position in order to undertake goal directed behaviours. The aeronautical solution is usually to employ orthogonally arranged sensors and to have control systems that mirror this set-up. But aeroplanes have fewer degrees of freedom than birds and have quite different design objectives. My challenge therefore is to determine how the sensory systems of birds use information to set up coordinate systems within reference frames to optimise their behaviour in their respective ecologies. What information do they use? How does this relate to their natural modes of flight? How does it relate to the constraints imposed by physics and nervous systems? To investigate these questions, I limit myself to the behaviour of gaze stabilisation, both as a reflex and during outer-loop goal directed behaviour, and use a variety of bird species exposed to experimental manipulations in our flight arena to obtain data.
I am a DPhil Student on the BBSRC Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP, and joined the Oxford Flight Group after completing my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences here at Oxford. I am interested in how animals use their sensory systems to control their flight through 3D space, and want to know more about how visual information is collected by birds and then used to command flight maneouvres. My current research focuses on the role of vision in obstacle avoidance, gap negotiation and perching, while also addressing how other sensory modalities may affect these behaviours. Zebra finches, the birds I carry out behavioural experiments with, are a well-studied model species, which I hope will allow me to draw links to the neurobiological and cognitive basis of the goal-oriented behaviours I am investigating. Outside my DPhil, I strive to continue creating impact through science by getting involved with STEM outreach activities, deep science innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly through my work at Panacea Innovation.
Sofía is a DPhil Student on the BBSRC Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP working on bio-inspired obstacle avoidance. She is currently working on an internship at DeepMind.
My research considers aerial interception in diurnal raptors. In particular, it investigates how Harris’ hawks use head movements to stabilise gaze during aerial pursuit and how this information augments the guidance laws that describe attack trajectories. Through biological experimentation with Harris’ hawks and simulation, I aim to understand this function in birds and the applications of this to UAVs.
Robin Mills is a PhD student at the University of Groningen, who worked until recently as an academic visitor and research assistant in the Oxford Flight Group on the guidance and control of aerial hunting by raptors. He builds simulations of bird flight to examine why raptors in general, and peregrine falcons in particular, should choose to use the spectacular, risky, and extraordinarily challenging attack behavior of stooping to catch their prey. In his simulations, he combines detailed kinematic and aerodynamic modelling with modelling of the vision, guidance, dynamics, and control of both raptor and prey. His aim is to reverse engineer the attacking falcon in order to engineer autonomous robot falcons that can be used to chase away birds from airports. Previously, Robin has conducted work on biologically-inspired computer vision. He now works as a team leader at software company Visii.
Dr Meng Xueguang was a visitor to the Oxford Flight Group from Xi'an Jiaotong University from 2017 to 2019. He completed his PhD on insect flight at Beihang University, researching the aerodynamic effects of wing corrugation on flapping wings. He plans to investigate the problems in aerodynamics and control that arise when an insect takes off from a non-horizontal plane. He uses high-speed cameras to record the wing and body kinematics of the insect and he uses CFD to obtain the aerodynamic forces acting on the wing.
Inés Dawson worked in the Oxford Flight Group as a DPhil Student on the BBSRC Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP researching the biomechanics of insect flight, with a strong background in biological sciences. Her research focuses on the intricacies of dipteran flight kinematics and aerodynamics. Using high-speed videography and custom software, she aims to discern the similarities and differences in generating aerial manoeuvres in free flapping flight across three species of fly. She currently works with Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies), Calliphora vicina (blow flies) and Eristalis tenax (hoverflies), and has researched tandem flapping flight in Schistocerca gregaria (desert locusts) and load lifting in Bombus terrestris (white-tailed bumblebees). Her research is aimed at improving and influencing the next generation of bio-inspired nano-air vehicles. When not working with insects or MATLAB, Inés is also an award-winning science communicator in English and Spanish, both online and on-stage. She creates engaging videos and articles on her website, Draw Curiosity, and on her two YouTube channels, Draw Curiosity and Inés-table, in order to make science stories interesting and internationally accessible. She is also an enthusiastic and engaging speaker on stage who enjoys informing and entertaining audiences of all ages and nationalities about different aspects of science. In addition to her personal science communication work, she has also collaborated with the BBC, Discovery, Merck, Órbita Laika and Naukas to help put a human face on scientific research.
Jonny Page worked in the Oxford Flight Group as a BBSRC-EPSRC funded DPhil Student studying the biomechanics of the insect flight motor, specifically focusing on dipteran insects like blowflies (Calliphora vicina) and droneflies (Eristalis tenax). Utilising cutting-edge techniques like high-speed videography and time-resolved micro-CT, he aims to understand how insects are able to control their wing movements so precisely, despite there being no muscles that attach directly to the wings. His work so far has produced the clearest high-speed video images of the so called "gear-change" mechanism, and quantified the effects of this mechanism on wing movement. More recently, Jonny has used time-resolved micro-CT techniques to study the movements of muscles within the thorax of blowflies. From this, he is building linear models which can predict wing movements from muscle activities, and uncovering the mechanisms through which these muscles alter wing movements. These studies have the potential to reveal mechanisms that are novel to the world of engineering, and may be of use in the design of machines of a similar size to insects. Jonny now works for Animal Dynamics.
James Walker worked in the Oxford Flight Group as a DPhil Student on the BBSRC Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP, and as a research assistant studying visual guidance in birds. His research involves using onboard GPS devices and head-mounted sensors to track peregrine falcons and pigeons during flight. This enables him to get an insight into how visual information is used by pigeons for short range navigation and by peregrines to intercept their prey mid during flight. Prior to joining the group, James conducted a research project as part of his undergraduate degree on load lifting in flies. In his spare time James captains the University Triathlon club.
We welcome enquiries from prospective doctoral students and independent research fellows. All of our current doctoral students are funded either by the BBSRC Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP, or by one of a number of scholarships offered by the University of Oxford and the Department of Zoology. Please contact Prof. Graham Taylor to discuss possible funding opportunities.
We have no open employment opportunities in the research team at present, but are happy to retain the contact details of prospective applicants, should you wish to register an interest in being informed of future opportunities.
We regret that we are unable to accept applications for internships at the present time, and may be unable to respond to all enquiries regarding these.