Department: Comparative Biomedical Sciences

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Centres: Structure & Motion Laboratory

Chris studies the evolution of the frog musculo-skeletal system using a combination of experimental, modeling and robotic tools.  More broadly, his group is interested in linking nero-muscular function to biomechanical performance.  Read more about paleo-robotics.

Chris holds degrees in Biology and Violin Performance (Oberlin College & Conservatory, OH, USA). In 2009 he earned a PhD at the Concord Field Station under the supervision of Andrew Biewener in 2009 (Harvard University, MA, USA). From 2009 to 2014 Chris established the Propulsion Physiology Lab under a Jr. Fellowship at the Rowland Institute (Harvard).He joined the Structure and Motion Laboratory as a European Research Council Research Fellow in March, 2014.

My team seeks to understand the physiological basis for how limbs move to power locomotion.

The fundamental question we ask is: How do muscle tissue properties influence the structure-function relationship of vertebrate limbs? Specifically, we focus on three fundamental limb properties:

  1. muscle function (intrinsic speed and strength)
  2. skeletal structure
  3. limb external morphology

Although traditional approaches address these properties in isolation of one another, they are all interdependent. For example over the course of evolution, if an animal transitions from water to land, we expect that the muscle properties must also change in concert with morphological shifts. Furthermore, we expect that the internal skeletal structure (e.g. the length of bones or bony processes) would also adapt. Hence, we attempt to understand how muscle properties, limb internal anatomy and external anatomy are 'tuned' to one another to confer effective locomotion. We address our questions using frogs as model systems.

Under a recent grant from the European Research Council, my group will investigate how evolutionary transformations of the frog hind limb and pelvis resulted in spectacular diversification of locomotor behaviour. Specifically, we will use muscle-powered robotic limb models to 're-animate' fossil frogs in search of general design principles that govern the multi-functionality of vertebrate limbs.

Please see my google scholar profile for the most recent activity (

Porro, L.B.*, Richards, C.T.* (2017) Digital dissection of the model organism Xenopus laevis using contrast-enhanced computed tomography, Journal of Anatomy. DOI 10.1111/joa.12625

Richards, C. T.*, Porro, L. B.*, Collings, A. J.* (2017). Kinematic control of extreme jump angles in the red-legged running frog, Kassina maculata. Journal of Experimental Biology, 220(10), 1894-1904.

Porro, L. B.*, Collings, A. J.*, Eberhard, E. A.*, Chadwick, K. P., & Richards, C. T.* (2017). Inverse dynamic modelling of jumping in the red-legged running frog Kassina maculata. Journal of Experimental Biology, 220(10), 1882-1893.

Clemente, Christofer J., and Christopher Richards. (2013) "Muscle function and hydrodynamics limit power and speed in swimming frogs." Nature communications 4.

Richards, C.T., Clemente, C.J. (2013). Built for rowing: frog muscle is tuned to limb morphology to power swimming. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 10, 20130236.

Richards, C.T., Sawicki, G.S. (2012). Elastic recoil can either amplify or attenuate muscle–tendon power, depending on inertial vs. ?uid dynamic loading. Journal of Theoretical biology, 313, 68-78 (11p).

Clemente, C.J., Richards, C.T. (2012). Determining the in?uence of muscle operating length on muscle performance during frog swimming using a bio-robotic model. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 7, 036018 (12pp).

Richards, C.T., Clemente, C.J. (2012). A bio-robotic platform for integrating internal and external mechanics during muscle-powered swimming. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 7, 016010 (15pp).

Richards, C.T., (2011). Building a robotic link between muscle dynamics and hydrodynamics. Journal of Experimental Biology, 214, 2381-2389.

Richards, C.T., (2010). Kinematics and hydrodynamics analysis of swimming anurans reveals striking inter-specific differences in the mechanism for producing thrust. Journal of Experimental Biology, 213, 621-634.

Richards, C.T., (2008). The kinematic determinants of anuran swimming performance:
an inverse and forward dynamics approach. Journal of
Experimental Biology, 211, 3181-3194.

Richards, C.T., Biewener, A.A. (2007). Modulation of in vivo muscle power output
during swimming in the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). Journal of
Experimental Biology, 210, 3147-3159.

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