MHC’s Gillis Receives NSF Award

Associate Professor of Biology Gary Gillis has been awarded $200,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research on the biomechanics of toad hopping. This grant will allow Gillis to purchase new equipment for the laboratory, and it will support student research for the next three years.

Gillis is specifically interested in the muscles in the toad’s arms that aid in landing after a jump.

“The hindlimb muscles of frogs and toads have served as an exemplary model for understanding the muscle’s role in powering propulsive movements like jumping,” Gillis says. “Anything that jumps must ultimately land, but unlike during jumping, when muscles produce the energy to accelerate the body, controlled landing requires muscles to dissipate energy to decelerate the body. The role of muscles during energy dissipation remains poorly understood.”

In addition to studying the muscles themselves, Gillis is also interested in the sensory feedback involved in coordinating muscle activity patterns associated with landing.

“By integrating biomechanics, muscle physiology, and sensory biology, this work will highlight fundamental principles governing controlled deceleration, an action common to most locomotor systems,” he says.

Gillis says MHC students will be heavily involved in this project. He also plans to collaborate with students and faculty from nearby community colleges to “broaden direct participation in this cutting-edge research.”

This is the second NSF award Gillis has received since coming to Mount Holyoke in 2002. He received a grant in 2003 to study the effects of body size on limb muscle function during mammalian locomotion.