Sharon Swartz, PHD
Professor of Biology and Engineering
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Engineering
Work: +1 401-863-1582
My primary research interest is the function and evolution of the vertebrate skeletal system. I seek to better understand and interpret the tremendous diversity and range of adaptation in design of vertebrate, particularly the mammalian skeletons.
BiographySharon received her undergraduate training in Biology and Anthropology/Sociology at Oberlin College, graduating with Highest Honors in 1981. After time away from school, she went on to graduate study in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at The University of Chicago, and completed her doctorate in 1988, focusing on biomechanical approaches to understanding evolutionary patterns in the mammalian limb skeleton. In 1987, she joined the faculty of Northwestern University in the interdisciplinary Primate Biology Graduate Program. Around this time, she turned her attention from primate locomotion to bat flight, while maintaining active interests in fundamental aspects of size and scale in the architecture of bones. Her work on bats includes studies of mechanical properties of tissues of the bat wing, dynamics of wing movements during flight, fluid dynamics of highly flexible airfoils, and aerodynamics and energetics of bat flight, and her active collaborations link biology to engineering, computer science, and mathematics.
Research DescriptionMy primary research interest is the function and evolution of the vertebrate skeletal system. I seek to better understand and interpret the tremendous diversity and range of adaptation in design of vertebrate, particularly mammalian skeletons. Comparative biologists have observed for centuries that skeletal morphology shows patterns of diversity among taxa that correspond to patterns of functional capability. My research program applies rigorous analysis of these complex structure/function interrelationships to improve our understanding of the adaptation of form and function to the mechanical environment. At the same time, I seek to understand the historical and physical limits of adaptation. Placed in a phylogenetic context, these results will ultimately help elucidate the nature of evolutionary changes in structural design and the behaviors facilitated and constrained by particular morphologies.
My specific research objectives are:
- To document directly the loads experienced by the mammalian skeleton during natural behaviors;
- To describe the morphology and mechanical properties of the skeleton in a functionally meaningful manner at a variety of organizational levels;
- To relate a detailed picture of mechanical usage to patterns of structural variation.
Meeting these objectives will produce a more complete picture of the functional biology of the skeleton, and will ultimately generate new views of skeletal evolution through the analysis of historical patterns of change in skeletal architecture or functional performance in relation to phylogenetic diversification.
At present, my efforts to achieve these broad goals are concentrated along two primary lines of inquiry:
- How do the wings of bats function in relation to their morphological organization?
- What is the significance of trabecular bone tissue? How does its architecture reflect its mechanical function?
Grants and Awards1981 Phi Beta Kappa
1982-85 Searle Graduate Fellowship, The University of Chicago
1985-86 Harper Memorial Doctoral Fellowship, The University of Chicago
1992 Mary Putnam-Jacobi Award for the Outstanding Woman Medical Faculty Member, Brown Women in Medicine
1995 Nominee, American Medical Women's Association Gender Equity Award
1995-99 Marshall, Brown University School of Medicine Commencement Exercises
1999 Winner, American Medical Women's Association Gender Equity Award
1999 Hooder, Brown University School of Medicine
2000 Dean's Excellence in Teaching Award, Brown Medical School
2008 ADVANCE Career Development Award
2009 Faculty Advising Fellow
2010 Karen T. Romer Advising Prize for Excellence in Advising
2013 Distinguished Service Award, The University of Chicago
AffiliationsSociety for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Divisions of Comparative Biomechanics, Vertebrate Morphology, and Comparative Physiology and Bioechemistry
North American Bat Research Society
International Society for Vertebrate Morphology
Society for Experimental Biology
American Physical Society, Division of Fluid Dynamics
My Teaching focuses on the integration of approaches from the physical and mathematical sciences with organismal and evolutionary biology. Biological Design (Bio 0400) uses basic math, physics, and engineering to better understand the materials and structures of a wide diversity of organisms, including animals, plants, fungi, and microbes. In Animal Locomotion, I employ a broad appraoch to understanding the ways animals move, including mechanics, energetics, physiology, ecology, and evolution. Although much of the course focuses on vertebrates, we also look at diverse cases from other groups of animals.
- Animal Locomotion (Biol 1800)
- Biological Design: The Structural Architecture of Organisms (Biol 0400)
- Igor Pivkin, Eduardo Hueso, Rachel Weinstein, David H. Laidlaw, Sharon Swartz, and George Karniadakis. 2005. Simulation and Visualization of Air Flow Around Bat Wings During Flight. Proceedings of International Conference on Computational Science, pages 689-694, (2005)
- Eduardo Hueso, Igor Pivkin, Sharon Swartz, David H. Laidlaw, George Karniadakis, and Kenneth Breuer. Visualization of Vortices in Simulated Airflow around Bat Wings During Flight. IEEE Visualization 2005 Poster Compendium, October 2005. (2005)
- Jason S. Sobel, Andrew S. Forsberg, David H. Laidlaw, Robert C. Zeleznik, Daniel F. Keefe, Igor Pivkin, George E. Karniadakis, Sharon M. Swartz, and Peter Richardson. 2004. Particle Flurries: Synoptic 3D Pulsatile Flow Visualization. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications April/May: 2-11. (2004)
- Watts, P., E. J. Mitchell*, and S. M. Swartz. 2001. A computational model for estimating mechanics of horizontal flapping flight in bats. Model description and comparison with experimental results. Journal of Experimental Biology. 204: 2873-2898. (2001)
- Swartz, S. M. 1997. Allometric patterning in the limb skeleton of bats: Implications for the mechanics and energetics of powered flight. Journal of Morphology, 234:277-294. (1997)
- Swartz, S. M., A. Parker*, and C. Huo*. 1997. Theoretical and empirical scaling patterns and topological homology in bone trabeculae. Journal of Experimental Biology, 201:573-590. (1997)
- Papadimitriou, H. M. *, S. M. Swartz, and T. H. Kunz. 1996. Ontogenetic and anatomic variation in mineralization of the wing skeleton of the Mexican free-tailed bat, Tadarida brasiliensis. Journal of Zoology, London, 240:411-426. (1996)
- Swartz, S. M., M. D. Groves*, H. D. Kim* and W. R. Walsh. 1996. Mechanical properties of bat wing membrane skin: aerodynamic and mechanical functions. Journal of Zoology, London, 239:357-378. (1996)
- Halgrimmsson, B.* and S. M. Swartz. 1995. Morphological adaptation in the hylobatid ulna: cross-sectional geometry and skeletal loading. Journal of Morphology 224:111-123. (1995)
- Swartz, S. M., M. B. Bennett, and D. R. Carrier. 1992. Wing bone stresses in free flying bats and the evolution of skeletal design for flight. Nature 359:726-729. (1992)
- Anton, S. C*., C. R. Jaslow and S. M. Swartz. 1992. Sutural complexity in artificially deformed human (Homo sapiens) crania. Journal of Morphology 214:321-322. (1992)
- Bertram, J. E. A. and S. M. Swartz. 1991. The "Law of bone transformation": A case of crying Wolff? Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 22(3):245-273. (1991)
- Swartz, S. M. 1991. Strain analysis as a tool for functional morphology. American Zoologist 31(4):655-669. (1991)
- Swartz, S. M. 1990. Pendular mechanics and the kinematics and energetics of brachiating locomotion. International Journal of Primatology 10(5):387-418. (1990)
- Swartz, S. M. 1990. Curvature of the limb bones of anthropoid primates: overall allometric patterns and specializations in suspensory species. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 83(4):477-498. (1990)
- Swartz, S. M. 1989. The functional morphology of weight bearing: limb joint surface area allometry in anthropoid primates. Journal of Zoology, London 218:441-460. (1989)
- Swartz, S. M., A. A. Biewener, and J. E. A. Bertram. 1989. Telemetered in vivo strain analysis of locomotor mechanics of brachiating gibbons. Nature 342:270-272. (1989)
- Swartz, S. M. 1987. Skeletal biomechanics and suspensory locomotion: preliminary results of in vivo bone strain analysis of brachiating gibbons. Proceedings of the American Society of Biomechanics 3:151-153. (1987)
- Biewener, A. A., S. M. Swartz and J. E. A. Bertram. 1986. Bone modeling during growth: dynamic strain equilibrium in the chick tibia. Calcified Tissue International 39:390-395. (1986)