Vibrations along surfaces are an important information source for animals and humans alike. Many animals, for example insects, spiders and elephants, are highly sensitive to surface vibrations and can efficiently determine what generated the vibration and from where. Understanding how animals use this information source so effectively can help us design useful technologies that use vibrations along surfaces for information. The recent boom in robotic technologies means that robots and drones will soon be gathering information on our behalf. Detecting vibrations on surfaces therefore has many potential applications within robotics: from inspecting the safety of dangerous areas hit by earthquakes, to monitoring elephant behaviour and poaching risk, to checking for faulty machinery using swarms of drones. This expands our technological use of vibrations beyond monitoring stations to detect earth vibrations or using microphones, towards flexible and mobile surface vibration sensing. Through my current research, I aim to understand how spiders, arguably the surface vibration experts of the animal kingdom, detect and use vibrations through their legs. Through studying spiders, I gain understanding that can be applied to other animals that sense these vibrations, as well as robots.
My other projects look at how ground-based, or seismic vibrations can be used to monitor wildlife as an important tool, which can be used to answer questions such as how elephants communicate over long distances. I also use nature for inspiration to develop new types of sensors that will allow robots to use vibrations along surfaces for information.
Beth is currently a Royal Society University Research Fellow and leader of the Animal Vibration Lab in the Zoology Department (2019-present). Her research is at the interface of biology, materials science and engineering, using physical sciences techniques to answer biological questions about information transfer through materials. Beth attained her Bachelors in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford. Following this, she gained teaching experience, receiving a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Oxford Brookes University. Her DPhil in Zoology (2010-2014) was based in the Oxford Silk Group looking at spider and silkworm silks as biological materials.
Upon completion of her DPhil, she was a Career Development and Access Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford (2014-2016), which involved both research and access work with UK schools. Following this, she was an 1851 Research Fellow and an honorary research fellow at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol (2016-2019) researching vibrational communication in animals, from spiders to elephants and insects to nematode worms. Beth was a Departmental Lecturer in Biology at the Zoology Department at Oxford 2018-2019 and a Drapers’ Company Junior Research Fellow at St Anne’s College 2017-2020.