Dr Beth Mortimer

Research Interests

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.


For recent public outreach related to my work, please see the links below.

October 2020. Panelist for Oxplore live event 'Could there be real life X-men?'

April-July 2020. Participated in 'I'm an Engineer, Stay at Home' Tomorrow's Engineers Zone, including being voted 'Engineer of the Week'.

April 2020. Interviewed as part of the BBC World Service's CrowdScience podcast.

December 2018. Invited speaker for TEDWomen 2018 conference, Palm Springs, CA, USA. Talk available here.

July 2018. Front cover and piece for Biosphere magazine, Issue 33.

May 2018. Work on elephant seismic vibrations featured in Daily Mail, Pacific Standard, USA Today, New York Times (including The Week in Good News), The Times, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4's Inside Science, CBC's Quirks and Quarks, Science Friday, Mongabay.com

May 2018. Oxford University Museum of Natural History Late night: Illuminating movement.

April 2018. The naked scientists: science podcasts and science radio shows. Senses Month: Tackling touch

Selected Publications

Miller, T. E. and Mortimer, B. Control vs. Constraint: Understanding the Mechanisms of Vibration Transmission During Material-Bound Information Transfer. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2020. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2020.587846

Davranoglou, L.-R., Mortimer, B., Taylor, G. K., Malenovsky, I. On the morphology and evolution of cicadomorphan tymbal organs. Arthropod Structure & Development, 2020, 55, 1008918.

Davranoglou, L.-R., Mortimer, B., Taylor, G. K., Malenovsky, I. On the morphology and possible function of two putative vibroacoustic mechanisms in derbid planthoppers (Hemiptera: Fulgoromorpha: Derbidae). Arthropod Structure & Development, 2019, 52, 100880.

Mortimer, B. A spider's vibration landscape: Adaptions to promote vibrational information transfer in orb webs. Int. Comp. Biol., 2019, icz043, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icz043.

Mortimer, B., Soler, A., Wilkins, L., Vollrath, F. Decoding the locational information in the orb web vibrations of Araneus diadematus and Zygiella x-notata. J. R. Soc. Interface, 2019, 16, 20190201.

Davranoglou, L.-R., Cicirello, A., Taylor, G. K., Mortimer, B. Planthopper bugs use a fast, cyclic elastic recoil mechanism for effective vibrational communication at small body size. PLoS Biology, 2019, 17(3), e3000155. 

Mortimer, B., Rees, W. L., Koelemeijer, P., Nissen-Meyer, T. Classifying elephant behaviour through seismic vibrations. Current Biology, 2018, 28(9), R547-548.

Mortimer, B., Soler, A., Siviour, C. R., Vollrath, F. Remote monitoring of vibrational information in spider webs. The Science of Nature, 2018, 105, 37.

Holbrook, R. I., Mortimer, B. Vibration sensitivity found in Caenorhabditis elegans. Journal of Experimental Biology, 2018, 221, jeb178947.

Mortimer, B. Biotremology: Do physical constraints limit the propagation of vibrational information? Animal Behaviour, 2017, 130, pp. 165-174.

Davranoglou L.-R., Banar, P., Mortimer, B., Taylor, G. K. The pregenital abdomen of Enicocephalomorpha and morphological evidence for different modes of communication at the dawn of Heteropteran evolution. Arthropod Structure & Development, 2017, 46, pp. 843-868.

Mortimer, B., Soler, A., Siviour, C. R., Zaera, R., Vollrath F. Tuning the instrument: sonic properties in the spider’s web. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2016, 13, 20160341.

Mortimer, B., Holland, C., Windmill, J. F. C., Vollrath, F. Unpicking the signal thread of the sector web spider Zygiella x-notata. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2015, 12, 20150633

Mortimer, B., Gordon, S., Siviour, C. R., Holland, C., Vollrath, F., Windmill, J. F. C. The speed of sound in silk: linking material performance to biological function. Advanced Materials, 2014, 26, pp. 5179-5183.