Dive into the marine world with George Lauder as he opens up his lab to us at The Fins United Initiative in a special "Behind the Fins" interview.
The Fins United Initiative: Were you always interested in the marine sciences?
George Lauder: Yes, I’ve been interested in the ocean and ocean life ever since I learned to scuba dive at an early age, inspired by the writings and movies of Jacques Cousteau about the underwater world. After that I majored in biology in college and then pursued research on fishes.
TFUI: What is your day-to-day schedule like?
GL: When I’m not teaching (either Anatomy and Physiology, or Biology of Fishes) I’m most likely to be found in my lab working and/or talking with my students about their projects. I love being in my lab and working on our research projects in collaboration with undergrads, graduate students, and postdocs.
TFUI: Can you tell us a little bit about the research you do? Elaborate a little bit on what it is you do for those TFUI readers who have no idea.
GL: I do research on the biomechanics of locomotion in fishes: how do fishes use their fins and bodies to swim and how do they generate forces during locomotion to maneuver? I’m interested in the diversity of fishes and how different species are adapted to their different swimming styles. We work with live fishes in the lab and various field settings using high-speed cameras and laser imaging of flow to better understand how fishes swim. We have pioneered the technique of visualizing flow over swimming fishes using laser particle imaging and use this to determine how fish bodies and fins interact with the water. Because studying live fishes can be challenging, we also work with a range of robotic models of fish fins and bodies. Fish robotics is a new and exciting area of research and our work is driven by the idea that we can design better underwater propulsion systems than current propeller-driven devices using inspiration from fishes. By using flexible and undulating surfaces with fine control inspired by the propulsive surfaces of fish, we can construct the next generation of underwater robotic devices.
TFUI: Why is your research important?
GL: I think that it is important to understand the natural world and how it works. So some of our research is simply curiosity driven. We just want to better understand the diversity of fishes and their anatomy and function. But our research is also important as part of the rapidly growing field of robotics and, in particular, biologically-inspired robotics. We can learn a tremendous amount from studying animal life that is useful as inspiration for engineering better devices that can help us in many different human endeavors.
TFUI: How do you find the state of Chondrichthyan conservation in your region of study?
GL: Honestly, it’s mostly quite depressing, as shark populations seem be declining largely as a result of overfishing. In our region, one exception is the considerable increase in white shark activity off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as a result of rebounding seal populations.
TFUI: What is the most rewarding thing about studying Chondrichthyans in this region?
GL: Trying to understand the biology of sharks, skates, and rays and some of their remarkable adaptations (I’m particularly interested in their skin and in how they swim) is just plain fun! It’s amazing to work toward understanding the remarkable locomotor biology of chondrichthyans which are so diverse. Also, the skin of chondrichthyans displays tremendous variation around the body and among species, and almost every day brings new discoveries … so doing our research is never boring!
TFUI: Do you think people in your area have a good relationship with the ocean environment? What about with sharks? If not, what can be done to better it?
GL: In general, yes. The state of Massachusetts has a lot of coastline and sharks have attracted a lot of attention in recent summers due to the substantial increase in white sharks near popular beaches on Cape Cod. But sharks are also heavily fished locally and coastal pollution continues to be an issue. I think that greatly restricting shark fishing and protecting all shark species from capture would be a very good step forward.
TFUI: What is the most mind-blowing Chondrichthyan fact you know?
GL: That their skin is covered by millions of tiny tooth-like scales, each with an internal structure that is very similar to human teeth. I’m always amazed when I think of this!
TFUI: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to follow your foot-steps?
GL: Learn as much as you can about subjects that interest you and focus on academic work so that you build strong credentials. Get involved in a research project of some kind early to see if you like doing this kind of work.
TFUI: What’s next for you?
GL: Continuing to work as hard as we can on our many fish research projects! It never gets old.
THE FINS UNITED INITIATIVE WOULD LIKE TO THANK george FOR HIS TIME AND WE CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT'S IN STORE FOR HIM!
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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