Fascination Neuromechanics: Advancing Robotics Through Innovative Transatlantic Research Collaborations

Poster Fascination Neuromechanics: Advancing Robotics Through Innovative Transatlantic Research Collaborations © UoC

The University of Cologne New York Office together with the German Embassy Washington DC, the German Research Foundation (DFG) North America, American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the German Center for Research and Innovation New York (DWIH) hosted presentations and a discussion at the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., on November 8, 2023.

To the event summary on the NRW-USA Year blog.

How can innovative transatlantic funding mechanisms benefit science beyond its national scope? Part of National Science Foundation’s (NSF) project Novel Networks for Neuroscience – NeuroNex, the Communication, Coordination and Control in Neuromechanical Systems (C3NS) network (C3NS website) brought together modelers, engineers, and experimentalists from Germany, UK, and North America with the goal of addressing the foundational question how biological nervous systems control and execute interactions with the environment. 

C3NS is co-funded by the NSF together with the German Research Foundation (DFG), as well as Canadian and UK partner organizations. It is one of only a few projects where multi-national agencies fund large-scale international research projects together despite structural differences. This exceptional collaborative project will be showcased in presentations by experts from Germany and the U.S. in the areas of neuroscience, robotics, and control, followed by a discussion with representatives from the research funding, diplomatic, and scientific communities in Washington, D.C. and beyond as well as other interested stakeholders.

With the participants the speakers dove into the fascinating world of neuromechanics. Animals are remarkably effective in getting around in the world – flexible, adaptable, and resilient. Whether one is swatting away fruit flies, admiring a squirrel scrambling up the trunk of a tree, or trying to chase cockroaches out of an apartment, the agility and speed with which animals can respond to avoid danger and achieve their goals is impressive. Understanding how the body and brain work together to create such adaptive behavior could create new technical solutions including novel, autonomous robots. Such innovations, enhanced through new perspectives and approaches thanks to uniquely funded close transatlantic collaborations, can also contribute to increasing our society’s resilience when dealing with global challenges. 

The event was part of the NRW-USA Year 2023-2024.

Not in Washington, D.C.? Perhaps you are interested in our New York City event on a similar topic.

Event Information

November 8, 2023, 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM

German Embassy, 4645 Reservoir Road NW, Washington DC
Organizer(s): University of Cologne NY Office, German Embassy Washington DC, German Research Foundation (DFG) North America, American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, German Center for Research and Innovation (DWIH) New York

Our Experts

Ansgar Büschges is a full professor for Animal Physiology and Neurobiology at the Institute of Zoology, University of Cologne. His research focuses on the neural and neuromechanical mechanisms underlying animal locomotion with specific emphasis on insect walking. Ansgar Büschges studied Biology at the University of Bielefeld and finished his PhD at the University of Kaiserslautern in 1989 – already focussing on motor control. Between 1989 and 1998, Ansgar continued researching during his postdoctoral periods at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Alberta, at the University of Kaiserslautern, and at the Nobel Institute for Neurophysiology, Stockholm. In 1998, Ansgar Büschges moved to the University of Cologne. He is convenor of the DFG funded UoC Neuroscience Graduate Programm RTG1960 "Neural Circuit Analysis," board member of the DFG funded CRC1451 "Key Mechansims of Motor Control in Health and Disease" and PI in the international research consortium "Coordination, Communication and Control in Neuromechanical Systems" in the NeuroNex programme. Ansgar is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of North-Rhine-Westphalia and Vice President of the German Neuroscience Society.
Prof. Dr. Ansgar Büschges, Professor for Animal Physiology and Neurobiology, University of Cologne
Roger Quinn
Roger D. Quinn is the Arthur P. Armington Professor of Engineering and a Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve University. He joined the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department in 1986 after receiving a Ph.D. (1985) from Virginia Tech and M.S. (1983) and B.S. (1980) degrees from the University of Akron. He has directed the CWRU Biologically Inspired Robotics program since its inception in 1990 and graduated more than 100 graduate students in the field, many of whom have reached leadership positions in industry and academics. His research, in collaboration with premier biologists including Profs. Hillel Chiel at CWRU and Ansgar Büschges at Cologne, is devoted to modeling animal neuromechanical systems and the development of robots based upon biological principles. He has authored more than 300 full-length publications and nine patents on practical devices. His biology-engineering collaborative work on behavior based distributed control, robot autonomy, human-machine interfacing, soft robots, and neural control systems have each earned awards.
Prof. Dr. Roger Quinn, Professor of Engineering, Case Western Reserve University
Hillel Chiel
Hillel J. Chiel received a B.A. in English from Yale University, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T. in Neural and Endocrine Regulation. After postdoctoral research in the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and in the Molecular Biophysics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories, he joined the faculty of Case Western Reserve University where he is a Professor of Biology, Neurosciences and Biomedical Engineering. His studies the neural and biomechanical mechanisms of adaptive behavior in the marine mollusk Aplysia californica, a basis for biologically-inspired robots and clinically-relevant technology. He has published over 150 peer-reviewed publications, has six patents, and is co-principal investigator on an NSF NeuroNex grant and an NIH BRAIN Initiative grant. He won the university-wide Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2004, the Diekhoff Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2009, and the Science (America Association for the Advancement of Science) Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction in 2012. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, London, England.
Prof. Dr. Hillel J. Chiel, Professor of Biology, Neurosciences and Biomedical Engineering, Case Western Reserve University
Victoria Webster-Wood
Victoria Webster-Wood received her B.S. in 2012, M.S. in 2013, and Ph.D. in 2017 in Mechanical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, receiving graduate support as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and GAANN Fellow in the Biologically Inspired Robotics Lab. She subsequently completed her postdoctoral training as a Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow in the Tissue Fabrication and Mechanobiology Lab at the same institution. Upon joining Carnegie Mellon University, she established the CMU Biohybrid and Organic Robotics Group (B.O.R.G). The B.O.R.G.’s research focuses on the use of organic materials as structures, actuators, sensors, and controllers toward the development of biohybrid and organic robots and biohybrid prosthetics.
Prof. Dr. Vickie Webster-Wood, MU Biohybrid and Organic Robotics Group (B.O.R.G), Carnegie Mellon University
Gesa Dinges
Gesa Dinges is a postdoctoral researcher at West Virginia University in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Her research focuses on strain sensors, both in the context of insect motor control and biology-first biomimetics. After completing a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Bayreuth (Germany), Dr. Dinges ventured into an in-depth study of motor control during her Master’s degree in Experimental and Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cologne (Germany). She went on to complete a Doctor of Natural Sciences in the lab of Prof. Dr. Ansgar Büschges in Cologne, investigating the neurobiology of strain sensors in the legs of Drosophila melanogaster. Now, as a DFG-funded Walter Benjamin Fellow in the lab of Prof. Nicholas Szczecinski at West Virginia University, Dr. Dinges is using an interdisciplinary approach to studying insect strain sensing using 3-D printed structures that mimic insect morphology and implementing these in insect-inspired robotic systems.
Dr. Gesa Dinges, Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, West Virginia University

Welcome Rounds Panel

  • René Haak, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Washington, D.C.
  • Eva Bosbach, University of Cologne New York Office
  • Georg Bechtold, German Research Foundation (DFG) North America
  • Christian Haenel, American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Moderated by:

  • Joerg Janssen, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Washington, D.C.