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Prof’s Work Featured on Science Journal Cover

Published: November 14, 2006
Dr. Mason Meers loves to borrow methodologies from any science and apply them to biology to get new results or challenge old ones.  

Chair and associate professor of biology, Meers recently authored an article that wound up being featured on the cover of The Anatomical Record, one of the oldest and most prestigious journals in organismal biology.

Bite-force studies and related excursions into the finer points of biomechanics have long been favorite topics for the Johns Hopkins grad. His latest study cuts new ground by applying methods of analysis used in engineering to biological forms.

“The significance of the paper, beyond understanding croc skull form,” Meers explained, “is that it represents the first-ever use of 3D finite element analysis in comparative biology, which is to say, looking at multiple species.

“Finite element analysis is a tool developed in engineering to evaluate the stress and strain placed on structures—beams, plates, bridges, etc.  

“We’re using FEA to ‘reverse engineer’ animals, which is to say that we can determine how their skulls (or whatever) are affected by loading. In the case here, we’re looking at various types of bites and how they affect the snout portion of the skull.

“Our newer work is much more dramatic, with literally millions of elements built into the model, and modeling of interior structures in the bones, as well. It’s really cool stuff.”

This is the second time an article by Meers has been featured on the cover of AR.

Off to the Great White Yonder

In a related story of pioneering research, Dr. Daniel Huber, visiting assistant professor of biology, will be off to Australia in the near future to dissect the jaw muscles of a great white shark, Meers said. To Meers’ knowledge, it will be the first such study attempted.

Given their size, weight and ability to inflict harm, great whites are hard to come by, Meers said, noting that only six to eight are caught each year. A team of Australian scientists has the head of a great white ready for the study, Meers said.

Like Meers’ work with crocodile heads, Huber’s impending shark study also is a first, Huber said, employing essentially the same engineering-to-biomechanics techniques.

“There’s been just descriptive modeling done,” Huber said of the study. “This will go a long way toward understanding why Great Whites are as dangerous as they are.”

Huber appeared in two episodes of the Discovery Channel’s Animal Face-Off, one that hypothetically pitted a Great White against a saltwater crocodile, and another that put a bull shark versus a hippopotamus.