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Department of Zoology


PhD student Alex Hackmann, from the Insect Biomechanics Workgroup, has won first prize in the Graduate School of Life Sciences Image Competition on 13th March 2014 for his Scanning Electron Microscopy image of a polystyrene particle attached to a cleaning hair of an ant.

In the course of evolution insects have developed a variety of strategies to reduce surface contamination, which can inhibit physiological functions. For example, many insects regularly clean their antennae with a specialized cleaning device on their front legs. Alex's PhD project focuses on understanding the underlying biomechanics of these cleaning structures.

This colourized Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) Image shows a 10 µm polystyrene particle (five times smaller than the diameter of a human hair) covered with smaller particles, which is attached to a cleaning hair after its removal from a Camponotus rufifemur ant's antenna. So far nothing is known about the forces acting between the cleaning hairs and the particles to be cleaned. This is the first time that a SEM image shows adhesion between a single cleaning hair and a contaminant.

The competition was also mentioned in the Daily Mail: