I started my career as a Master student in the year 2001 at the Laboratory of Functional Morphology (Department of Biology) of the University of Antwerp, Belgium (supervised by Prof. Anthony Herrel and Prof. Peter Aerts). I studied the consequences of the drastically increased size of the jaw muscles in different species of African air‐breathing catfish (Clariidae) on the mechanics of their feeding apparatus. I continued my work on this topic as a PhD-student, combining experimental work (high‐speed video, X‐ray video, in‐vitro contractile property measurements of muscles) with mathematical modelling. I defended my PhD-thesis in May 2006. More information on my PhD-thesis can be found on this page.
I successfully applied for the competitive post‐doctoral fellowships of the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO‐Vl) to continue to work as a researcher at the University of Antwerp (2006‐2012). Funding obtained from the FWO-Vl and from the Special Research Fund of the University of Antwerp for laboratory equipment and expenses enabled me to establish a working set-up and several protocols for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling in the Functional Morphology Lab in Antwerp (3D laser scanning, mesh construction, ANSYS Fluent CFD software usage). Following, I worked as a post‐doctoral assistant at the lab of Evolutionary Morphology of Vertebrates at Ghent University (2012‐2015). During this time, I conducted five main projects:
- I studied the biomechanics of prey capture in Syngnathidae, the group of specialized suction feeding fish which includes pipefishes and seahorses. I used experimental quantifications of muscle activity and cranial kinematics together with mechanical models to unravel the mechanics behind their extremely fast capture of prey. This also allowed me to formulate an adaptive explanation for the horse‐like shape of seahorses. Together with Peter Aerts, I was the promoter of the PhD-thesis of Gert Roos (December 2010).
- I acquired the mathematical modelling skills of CFD in ANSYS Fluent software and introduced it as a tool for studying the interaction between feeding animals and their aquatic environment to the field of functional morphology of feeding in vertebrates. This work included CFD-models of aquatic snakes striking at their prey, rotating pipefish and seahorse heads, the expanding heads of suction-feeding fishes, giant salamanders, and newts. In addition, this technique combined with force measurements in a flow tank performed by my collaborators from the University of Groningen allowed me to determine the hydrodynamic performance of the carapace of boxfish, a model system for the design of cars and underwater vehicles.
- My doctoral student Krijn Michel and I studied the biomechanics of terrestrial feeding in a range of amphibious fishes (mudskippers, four‐eyed fish, reedfish) to better understand the changes that are needed for ancestrally aquatic vertebrates to terrestrialize. This work featured the spectacular discovery that mudskippers use a hydrodynamic tongue during feeding on land. Krijn’s PhD thesis was defended successfully in October 2015.
- I studied how Nile tilapias (a cichlid fish species) mouthbrood their eggs. These fishes take a massive amount of fertilized eggs into their enlarged mouth cavity, and provide them with flows of fresh water. I described how they generated these flows, and what the drawbacks are of their enlarged head on hydrodynamic resistance during swimming.
- Using multibody-dynamics simulation (SimMechanics for Matlab Simulink), I studied the dynamics of beak movement during singing in the Java finch. This is a model species for the group of Darwin’s finches, one of the best examples of evolutionary divergence in morphology due to dietary specialisation. The simulations showed mechanical principles that may be responsible for the trade-off in the performance of the bird’s feeding system and the beak’s function during singing. Further analyses are planned to improve our understanding of the dynamics of beak movement in songbirds, and what the implications are for the evolution of Darwin's finches.
In 2016 I was granted funding by the French Agence National De La Recherche (ANR) to lead a 3-year project on the biomechanics of intra-oral flow generation in fishes (IOFLOW) at the Museum of National History (MNHN) in Paris. A page dedicated on this project can be found here on this website.
During the years, I have participated in teaching at the University of Antwerp, Hasselt, and Gent. This ranged from small, specialized practical courses to Master students in Biology (electromyography, computational fluid dynamics, vertebrate embryology) to general introductory courses on diversity and functional morphology of deuterostome animals to Bachelor students in biological, biomedical, and biotechological sciences.