PhD position

Neurophysiology and biomechanics of dragonfly flight behaviours

Keywords: neural recording, freely flying behaviors, motion capture, computational models, robotics

Project description

Negotiating complex visual environments has been a great challenge for machine vision and mobile robots. Many insects managed to solve this problem with a relatively small amount of visual information and orders of magnitude less computational power. The dragonfly was the first animal to fly and remains one of the best fliers on the planet today. This top insect predator intercepts flying targets with impressive speed and a success rate unrivalled by birds of prey or terrestrial predators. Dragonflies also possess the most sophisticated visual system with the highest visual resolution in the insect world. Combining complex visual behaviours, excellent flight performances, and sophisticated vision, the dragonfly allows us to answer questions that cannot be addressed with other insect models.

This project will focus on understanding the behavioural and physiological solutions for challenges in general flight control and visual guidance in the dragonfly. The work involves behaviour analyses of freely flying dragonflies, electrophysiology recording of visual neurons, and computational modeling of visuomotor systems. The student will develop behaviour paradigms for freely flying dragonflies and acquire detailed 3D kinematics data via the insect scale motion capture system in the lab. Based on the behavioural models derived from the kinematics data, the student will record from several relevant visual neurons in the dragonfly to test the hypotheses. Finally, the student will develop bioinspired engineering framework for visually guided systems.

We are one of the few labs in the world that can record wirelessly from freely flying insects. We uniquely combine insect scale motion capture and ultra-light neural telemetry, behavioral modeling, and insect biomechanics to study neuromechanics of insect flight. Please see the lab website for more information (

Eligibility and funding

This PhD studentship in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London is fully funded* for UK/EU candidates** (3-years) starting anytime between March 2018 and October 2018. Eligible candidates should have a bachelor degree (2.1 or first class) or a master degree (merit or distinction) in Natural Sciences or Engineering with laboratory experiences. This project is suitable for students with background in engineering (e.g. EE, CS, Robotics) or experimental physics who are interested in biology, or biology students (e.g. neuroscience, animal physiology, biomechanics, animal behaviour) with some technical training (e.g. electrophysiology, motion capture, mechatronics, computational modeling).

A successful candidate should have a strong interest in insect behaviours and sensory neuroscience. A track record in hands-on laboratory work (does not include molecular lab experience) and proficiency in small-scale dissections/manipulations will be highly desirable. Abilities to program (e.g., Matlab, Python, and/or C++), and knowledge in electronics are a plus. Experience in high-speed photography is helpful. Most importantly, the applicant must be highly motivated, shows clear interest in visuomotor systems, and enjoys a multi-disciplinary research environment. Since we also study dragonflies in the wild, the student is expected to participate in field work occasionally.


To apply for the position, please send a single PDF document including a one-page cover letter discussing research interest and experiences, a two-page CV, a copy of transcripts, and contact information of two references to Dr. Huai-Ti Lin ( with subject line “NBits_PHD_APP”. Application will stay open until the position is filled.

*The standard PhD studentship covers home/EU tuition fees and provides a bursary (£16,553 in 2017/18).

**Oversea students (non-UK/EU) can discuss scholarship application for the next PhD intake round.