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02/02/2018 14:16:14

Using the Brain of a Modern Fly to Reconstruct the Behaviors of an Ancient World

Watson Lecture Preview

Over 400 million years ago, a group of tiny six-legged creatures evolved the ability to fly—an event that fundamentally transformed life on our planet.

In his February 14 Watson Lecture, Michael Dickinson will discuss how his lab is attempting to reconstruct the behavior and ecology of the ancestral insects through investigations of the common fruit fly, using a diverse assortment of modern techniques from different fields such as neuroscience, biomechanics, and engineering.

Through his work, the brain of a common fly shows a fascinating window into the past, providing new insight into the evolution of our planet's most diverse group of organisms.

The lecture, held at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, February 14, at Beckman Auditorium, is a free event; no tickets or reservations are required.

Dickinson, the Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering and Aeronautics in the Caltech Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, focuses his research on the motion of a fly through the air, linking this behavior with fundamental areas of research such as neuronal signaling, fluid-flow dynamics, structural mechanics, and complex nonlinear systems. Dickinson's aim is not simply to understand the material basis of insect flight but to develop its study into a model that can provide insight into the behavior and robustness of complex systems in general. Dickinson, who came to Caltech in 2001, received his bachelor's degree from Brown University in 1984 and his PhD from the University of Washington in 1989.

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.