Dr Richard Bomphrey

Richard Bomphrey

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Job title: Reader
Division: Royal Veterinary College
Organisation: University of London
Tags: Fellowship: Career Acceleration Fellowship
Related theme: Engineering Global uncertainties Physical Sciences


Richard obtained his PhD from Oxford in 2004. Postdoctoral positions at Bath and Oxford led to an EPSRC Fellowship in 2009. In 2013, Richard moved to the Royal Veterinary College. In 2015, Richard was made Reader of Biomechanics and he continues to work on aerodynamics, sensing, control, and bio-inspired robotics.

My Fellowship

Insects are the most diverse order of animals on earth and flight may be the key to this success. However, despite hundreds of millions of years of evolution, insect wings have not converged on a single optimal shape. Instead, there is an extraordinary range of wing morphologies visible in the world today (and even more fossilized) yet, fundamentally, they all perform the same task - to enable flight. This led me to ask 'why are insects so varied, and why is there no single wing shape that is best-suited to flapping flight?'

The answer may well lie in assorted locally optimal solutions, specifically adapted to the tasks each insect undertakes during its life. The mission-profile of flight is unique for each insect species and so the selection pressures on wing morphology and kinematics is also species specific. A dragonfly that catches its prey on the wing and engages in aerial combat against rivals must be fast and manoeuvrable. Contrast this with the locust flying efficiently across the deserts while remaining robust enough to withstand sandstorms.

Understanding the morphologies of over a million described flying insect species is unfeasible, yet trends run through them which are exciting for aerodynamic engineering because they show solutions to specific requirements that have been tried, tested, and proven to succeed. This fellowship helps to explain the diversity of insect wing shapes from the perspective of biomechanical adaptation while simultaneously providing design guidelines for engineers constructing insect-sized vehicles.

Motivation to Apply

The biggest attraction of the Career Acceleration Fellowship was the freedom to pursue my own research questions with support from the EPSRC. The fellowship schemes are a perfect start to an independent academic career with a focus on innovative research because they come with the equipment, staff and dedicated time needed to realise ambitious goals.

Career benefits of Fellowship

My career has benefitted enormously from this fellowship. The prestige attached to such a competitive award opens many doors and provides a solid platform not only for your own core themes but also for exciting new collaborative research opportunities.

Advice for future applicants

If you've got a great idea that is ambitious, innovative, challenging and addresses an important question - do it! The process can seem daunting but the rewards are enormous. If you are successful, you will be doing a job you love and that's the best job in the world.