Previous WRF Postdoctoral Fellow
Jeffrey Riffell, Biology
Nathan Kutz, Applied Math
PhD, Control and Dynamical Systems, Caltech (2014)
BS, Biological Engineering, Cornell University (2008)
I am currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Reno working in the Mechanical Engineering Department.
I study biological questions that tie together ecology, biomechanics, and neurobiology into engaging narratives of natural history. At the intersection of these topics is animal behavior, and with insects comprising over a third of all animal biomass, I have made them my focus. Of particular interest to me are the fruit fly and mosquito.
Fruit flies have cohabited with humans throughout our evolution, and have developed a strong desire for alcohol thanks to our addiction to brewing it. Meanwhile, mosquitoes have forever plagued humanity as vectors of disease including malaria, dengue and yellow fevers, and most recently, Zika.
My research is focused on understanding the details of how insects can be so efficient at finding our fermenting fruit, and ourselves, despite their numerically limited brains. To answer these questions I build novel systems for automatic observation of insects in virtual worlds with computer-controlled visual, olfactory, and thermal stimuli. This lets me answer complex ecological questions with huge, detailed, and carefully controlled datasets. By studying the behavior of these animals in detail, I hope to gain inspiration for novel methods for analyzing big multi-factorial datasets that can be applied to machine learning.