The Columns

Jumping Grasshoppers

— by on September 15th, 2011

When Washington and Lee engineering professor Jon Erickson introduced a new bioengineering course last fall, he said he wanted to show the students how many “beautiful problems at the intersection of biology, physics and engineering can be tackled using a synergy of ideas and techniques.”

His students started out studying the structure and function of the grasshopper’s nervous and muscular systems, then they learned how to build electronics components to interface with them. They implanted an electrode into grasshoppers’ abdomens to tap into the central nervous system. Then, with the right key strokes on the computer, the students cause the grasshoppers to jump.

As it turned out, the project had, ahem, legs. Last month, Jon and two of his students, seniors Susie Giampalmo and Ben Absher, went to Boston for the 33rd IEEE — Engineering in Medicine and Biology conference. Susie and Ben gave an oral presentation on their cyborg grasshopper research, which they continued during the summer.

Watch the video below for a story about the research: