Mechanical Engineering Seminar


Biomechanics, control, and evolution of feet and fins


Dr. Madhusudhan Venkadesan


Yale University


Monday, March 13, 2023 at 11:00:00 AM   


MRDC Building, Room 4211


Dr. Greg Sawicki


The arched morphology of the human foot is unique among primates and is a signature of the evolution of human bipedalism. How do our feet withstand loads exceeding several times the bodyweight without severe bending, and when did this ability evolve in humans? In this talk, I will show that curvature induced stiffness, like that of a slightly curled dollar bill or a slice of pizza, results from Gauss Theorema Egregium and underlies our foot ability to maintain shape. I will use mathematical models, physical mimics, and biological experiments to derive the relationship between curvature and stiffness and trace its evolution in human ancestors. Moving from statics to dynamics, I will then show how the mechanical behavior of the foot is modulated during locomotion. I will conclude with ongoing work on fish fins to understand the 380 million year old water to land evolutionary transition among vertebrates. These studies are part of a larger research goal to discover principles of mechanics and control across scales, from the statistical mechanics of molecular motors in muscle to the dynamics and stability of running on uneven terrain, with implications for human health and the design and control of prostheses and robots.


Madhusudhan Venkadesan studies the mechanics and control of how animals move. He is currently an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Yale University. He completed his Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and obtained M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University with a dual concentration in Dynamics and Control and Applied Mathematics. He was briefly a cross department postdoctoral fellow in Applied Mathematics and Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University before starting his independent career. Problems being pursued include animal locomotion, geometry and mechanics of joints, topology of shape changing skins, and statistical mechanics of muscle. Motivations and applications for his work include biomedical sciences, evolutionary biology, robotics, and plain curiosity about daily observations.


Refreshments will be served.