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Learning about the Mosquito Love Song


Hi! My name is Haley Smith and I just finished my senior year at Temple University where I studied bioengineering. I had an awesome first week at Backyard Brains, meeting all the fellows and familiarizing myself with the workspace and the BYB kits was a fun way to get started. I have extensive lab experience in the fields of biomechanical engineering, neuroengineering, and molecular/cellular engineering, all of which has helped prepare me for my unique project this summer: studying mosquito love songs!  For my research, I will begin by designing methodology to record the frequency patterns of mosquito wings as they begin the mating process. I’m hoping through analysis of these patterns, I will be able to reveal key parameters and cues in the mosquito mating process. You can see in the graphic below (from the Cornell paper which inspired this project titled “Harmonic Convergence in the Love Songs of the Dengue Vector Mosquito”) how the female mosquito’s frequency changes over time to match the male’s…

Harmonic Convergence.

By understanding more about mosquito mating, the scientific community can come up with new ways to help control mosquito populations and limit the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. I am so excited to begin working on this proposed project by Dr. Ronald Hoy at Cornell University, department of neurobiology and behavior!

Presentation of my Senior Design Project, I’m third from the left!

Before beginning my fellowship position at BYB this summer, I worked under the supervision of a neuroengineering professor in a medical research lab at Temple University Hospital. At the lab, I worked primarily on my senior design project:  engineering a nerve cuff electrode for the reinnervation of bladder function in individuals with spinal cord injuries and/or neurological disorders. Within this project, I utilized shape memory materials (specifically an Ni-Ti SMA alloy) embedded in the nerve cuff wall to facilitate surgical implantation, which worked thanks to a self-closing property of these materials under specific temperature thresholds. This idea came to me after discussing flaws with current nerve cuff electrodes used to restore bladder function with Dr. Michael Ruggieri, a professor of cell anatomy and biology at Temple University. Dr. Ruggieri dedicates his time and skills to work on NIH-funded projects in order to reveal pathogenic mechanisms of clinically relevant human disorders with the hopes of establishing clinical trials. His work on lower urinary tract denervation revealed many surgical implantation difficulties and complications, which inspired my idea of incorporating a shape memory alloy in the cuff design to help establish a more effective and efficient means of implanting such devices.

Through this research, I worked with MATLAB and utilized high-speed motion capture systems while also applying mathematic computations of body mechanics, forces associated with locomotion, and other engineering principles of physiological systems. These experiences and skills make me very confident I can invent methodology to study the mosquito love song and, after recording data, come up with some hypotheses and experiments to perform! It’s going to be an exciting summer! I can’t wait to get started!

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