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Jack Whitehead

Jack Whitehead, portrait with bird


Ph.D., Virginia Tech

Courses Taught

  • BIOS 1300/1310 Anatomy & Physiology Laboratory

Research Interests

I am a biologist with a focus on the interface of biology and physics. My interests, broadly, are on how the interplay of physics and biology has influenced how various organisms evolved. My research focuses on a combination of biomechanics and sensory biology. Specifically, I study the kinematics of landing behavior in ducks to examine how they detect and regulate their approach kinematics. This can influence how kinematics change in response to changes in landing substrate, such as landing on water versus a perch or the ground. By studying such behaviors and interactions, we can elucidate how birds’ landing behaviors may be constrained by various aspects of the mechanics of flight and/or their sensory capabilities. This knowledge regarding how birds compensate and adapt to physical constraints can be informative about the evolution of flight, as well as be a source of bio-inspiration and biomimetic design in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).


I earned my B.S. in Biology from Juniata College. There, I contributed to research on protein folding and bioinformatics, while during the summers I participated in internships where I worked on pharmaceutical studies for cancer treatments and ecological studies on invasive species. It was through these diverse research experiences that I discovered that my interests in biology were in the integration of biology with other fields. As a result, I entered Virginia Tech in pursuit of my Ph.D. through the MultiSTEPS program (now BIOTRANS). There, I worked with Dr. John Phillips (Professor of Biology) and Dr. Jake Socha (Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics) in both biology and engineering. They presented me with the opportunity to pursue a number of projects focusing on navigation and locomotion. In the end, I focused my pursuits at the interface of the mechanics of flight and sensory biology, where I continue to work. However, I am always interested to discuss and investigate new and integrative projects.