I am fascinated by the nature of intelligence, which can be defined as adaptable goal-seeking behaviour. For me, insects are ideal organisms in which to study intelligence, because they are complex to enough to perform interesting behaviours, while having nervous systems simple enough to be experimentally tractable. Butterflies are of particular interest because of their elaborate visual systems. For instance, many butterflies not only have richer colour vision than us humans, but can also perceive the polarization of light. How butterflies make use of this rich visual information is poorly understood; indeed, why a non-predatory animal requires such a highly developed visual sense is an evolutionary puzzle of great scientific interest. On the other hand, understanding the neural “programming” of insects is more valuable than ever from an engineering perspective, as autonomous vehicles (“drones”) are starting to become technologically viable.
I focus primarily on behavioural experiments, because I consider it vital to investigate the interaction of an intact animal with its environment via its sensory and motor systems. Towards this end, I employ “high-tech” experimental designs, such as automatically tracking an insect's behaviour in real-time in order to manipulate the stimuli it receives in a closed-loop fashion. I also implement computer models of the phenomena I investigate, because this synthetic process can not only confirm one's hypotheses, but also raise new questions for experimental study.