Gary Gillis says he was drawn to biology because of a strong interest in "how animals work." Says Gillis, "In this age of genome projects, stem cells, and bioinformatics, it is becoming all too easy to lose sight of the organism in biology. I want students to know that the organism is not only relevant but central to the field of biology and that the study of organismal structure and function remains a dynamic and exciting area of inquiry."
Gillis's research interests focus on how animals use their muscles to generate and coordinate dynamic activities such as locomotion. While current knowledge of how muscles function comes from in vitro work in which muscles or their component fibers are studied outside the context of a living organism, Gillis studies how muscles operate within an animal with the goal of eventually relating in vitroproperties with in vivo actions.
In past research projects, Gillis has explored locomotor versatility by examining muscle actions in different physical environments and how body size impacts the ways muscles work during terrestrial locomotion. He and his students have also studied the importance of the tail during jumping in lizards. Recent work in his lab has used toad landing as a model for understanding the biomechanics and neuromuscular control of rapid deceleration, and current experiments are aimed at teasing out the sensory modalities most critical to managing forces associated with impact.
A frequent contributor to scientific journals, Gillis has published more than 30 peer-reviewed papers, and between 2003 and 2013 was a feature writer for the “Outside JEB” section of the Journal of Experimental Biology, in which he published 36 pieces. In 1998 Gillis received a three-year National Research Award from the National Institutes of Health to study "plasticity of limb muscle function during locomotion." In 2003, he was awarded over $200,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the effects of body size on limb muscle function during locomotion. In 2011 he received another $200,000 NSF grant to fund his experiments on the biomechanics and neuromuscular control toad landing. His work has been covered by the New York Times, Discovery Channel, various radio shows and other media outlets. For two years, in 2012 and 2013, Gillis served as a Program Director in the Physiological and Structural Systems Cluster at the National Science Foundation. Since 2015, Gillis has been serving in the College's administration as Associate Dean of Faculty and as the Director of the Science Center.
- "Before you jump, plan for how you'll land," Office of Communications and Marketing, January 21, 2015
- "'Science Cafes' Feed Hunger for Technical Understanding," Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 17, 2013
- "MHC's Gillis Receives NSF Award," Office of Communications, April 8, 2011
- "Eureka!: Do toads Have a Sixth Sense--AKA Proprioception?"Daily Hampshire Gazette, March 19, 2011
- "Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship," Office of Communications, February 22, 2011
- "Gary Gillis Talks Jumping on WAMC," WAMC The Academic Minute, September 24, 2010
- "Gillis on Amphibian Research," Science News, July 23, 2010
- "Figuring Out How Toads Endure All That Hopping," New York Times, February 8, 2010
- "Gillis Research Published in Biology Letters," Office of Communications, February 5, 2010
- "The Tales Tails Tell," Discovery News, September 9, 2009
- "MHC's Gillis Appears on Discovery Channel," Daily Planet, March 31, 2009
- "Gillis Earns International Media Attention," Office of Communications, March 20, 2009
- "MHC's Gillis Finds Tailless Lizards Lose Agility," Office of Communications, February 18, 2009
- "Leaping Lizards! Gary Gillis's New Research," Office of Communications, February 18, 2009
- "MHC's Cool Classes," Office of Communications, August 9, 2007
- "Senior Symposium '07 Students," Office of Communications, April 17, 2007
- "Sabbatical Story Highlights MHC Professor," The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 6, 2006