Theo smiles to the camera with trees in the background

What They Learned: Theo Bien ‘22

The physics major created a framework for building a robotic spotted lanternfly simulation.

How do spotted lanternflies move around? Ask Theo Bien! His thesis,  “Robotic simulations as a tool to understand insect self-righting,” allowed him to combine his interests in robotics and biophysics by looking into lanternfly biomechanics. 

Bien credits his thesis advisor, Physics Professor Suzanne Amador Kane with helping him find a good application for his skills and interests for his thesis research. “One of the biggest differences between a thesis and a normal course is that there isn’t anyone who understands your work to the same extent that you do,” said Bien. “This makes it difficult for others to help you when you get stuck. This thesis project taught me a lot about how I could overcome problems on my own and how to effectively utilize the wider resources available to me on the internet.”

 The physics major is continuing his studies in mechanical engineering as part of Haverford’s and UPenn’s joint 4+1 engineering program.

What are the implications for your thesis research? 

My thesis describes a framework for building up a hexapedal (six-legged) insect robot model. For my thesis, I used spotted lanternflies as a model species, but my work could easily be altered and applied to a different insect. Using a simple variation of the robot model from my thesis, researchers could better understand the biomechanics of any insect. This knowledge can be utilized to help mitigate the spread of insects and to inform biomimetic robotics work.

What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do with helping to guide your future career path?

Next year I will be finishing my master’s in mechanical engineering at UPenn. A lot of the robotics skills I gained through working on my thesis will be useful in this program. After completing my work at Penn, I am considering applying to animatronics jobs where I would make robotic animals for films or theme parks. My thesis work is especially applicable and will help me replicate animal geometries and movement in a robotic system.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.