portrait

Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Villanova University, PA USA

Email: alyssa.stark at villanova.edu

Mailing Address:

Department of Biology
Mendel Science Center
800 E. Lancaster Ave.
Villanova, PA 19085

Office: 191A Mendel Science Center

Lab: 104 Mendel Science Center

Phone: 610-519-4838

gecko

Research Interests

  • Natural Adhesive Systems
  • Functional Morphology
  • Biological Materials 
  • Biomimicry and Bio-inspired Design

My research program uses an integrative approach to explore how environmental factors affect the performance, behavior, and morphology of biological organisms. Specifically, I integrate laboratory and field-based methods rooted in biology, with analytical and theoretical methods from physics, chemistry, and material science. Currently I use geckos and ants to explore questions about the functional morphology of adhesion.

Research on the adhesive systems of ants and geckos has principally focused the physical mechanism of adhesion. This work, however, has left gaps in our understanding of the chemical, material, and morphological characteristics of these systems. An integral part of my research program is focused on filling these gaps in our understanding of the adhesive mechanism.

Currently most performance measurements of biological adhesive systems focus on testing the adhesive apparatus in controlled laboratory conditions. This approach, however, neglects whole animal performance, and relevant abiotic and biotic factors and interactions. Furthermore, very little work has explored what these performance measurements mean for the behavior and ecology of these organisms. To address these complex interactions which result in variation in adhesive performance and behavior, I test static and dynamic adhesion of live ants and geckos in a variety of ecologically relevant conditions in the laboratory and the field.

My interdisciplinary background allows me to apply the insights I glean from the mechanistic, performance, and behavioral attributes of the natural system to synthetic systems. I am interested in the application of bio-inspired design and biomimicry to real-world problems. I also find that these provide important opportunities for large scale collaboration (e.g., STEAM), education, and service.

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