Adam Summers

  • Professor, SAFS

Research areas

My research has been influenced by my background in engineering and mathematics and my interest in the evolution of non-human animals. I have many collaborative projects on a variety of vertebrate taxa, including reptiles, amphibians, bony fishes, and cartilaginous fishes. My main research program is in understanding the effects of material properties on the form and function of organisms. For example, I use a comparison between the cartilaginous fishes and the bony fishes as a model system for understanding the constraints and opportunities presented by a cartilaginous skeleton.

I approach problems at several disparate size scales: the comparative biochemistry of cartilage, ultra- and micro-structural morphology, gross anatomy, and function at the whole animal level.

In general my students’ interests are different than my own, with each pursuing a completely independent project. From time to time I will collaborate with a student on a project of mutual interest. My students and I share a desire to understand the mechanics of an organism’s interactions with its environment and an overarching concern with placing the answers in an evolutionary context. I consider anatomy to be the investigative basis for many of my projects and this enthusiasm for shape is shared by my students. From anatomy I often make a leap to either a physical or a mathematical model in order to understand function. This model is in turn tested both against its inspiration and as a predictive tool.

I like to share knowledge on biomechanics and for years wrote a column on biomechanics for Natural History magazine.