Patek Lab Members

Active Lab Members

Sheila Patek

Research Focus: Evolutionary mechanics of movement and communication

Patek received her A.B. with honors in Biology from Harvard University followed by a Ph.D. in Biology from Duke University. She was then awarded a Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Berkeley. She has received several honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the George A. Bartholomew Award for distinguished contributions to comparative physiology, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a NSF CAREER award, and the Brilliant 10 award from Popular Science magazine. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, Hellman Family Foundation, Armstrong Fund for Science, Army Research Office MURI, and others.

Leah Fitchett

Research Focus: Bioacoustics, communication and ecology

Leah Fitchett received her B.S. in Biology, as well as a minor in Marine Science from The College of William and Mary. She performed her undergraduate research in a Trace Metals Biogeochemistry lab at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science where she focused on measuring and comparing the trace-metal content of phytoplankton species within a mixed community. Since graduating in 2014, she has held positions as a Park Interpreter for Virginia State Parks, working to provide educational opportunities for park guests, and as a Watershed Management Research Assistant for Virginia Tech in conjunction with the National Forest Service, performing fieldwork in watershed and stream habitat assessment. She will focus her research in the Patek Lab on the acoustic communication and behavior of mantis shrimp. Through her research, she hopes to find connections to big-picture ecological roles of marine invertebrate communication, and the implications for natural resource management.

Chi-Yun Kuo

Research Focus: Ecology, whole-organism performance, biomechanics

Chi-Yun received his BA and MS from National Taiwan University and his PhD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His PhD research investigated the cost-benefit dynamics of autotomy (the voluntary shedding of appendages) in lizards. His main interest lies in understanding how ecology drives adaptive trait variation. At the interface of ecology and evolution, he is also interested in the role of whole-organism performance in determining fitness. Chi-Yun’s research has incorporated controlled lab experiments, field work and theoretical modeling. In the Patek Lab, he will integrate ecology, life-history and biomechanics to study power-amplified, ultra-fast movements in animals. You can check out his website here:

Martha Muñoz

Research Focus: Animal Behavior, Evolutionary Ecology

Martha earned her BA in Biology from Boston University and her PhD in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard. Before coming to Duke, Martha worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Australian National University, where she studied the evolutionary physiology of tropical skinks. She works at the interface between ecology and evolution. Martha studies how organisms interact with their environments, and how such interactions guide the evolutionary process. Her work with the Patek lab will focus on the evolution of striking behavior and morphology in stomatopods.

Patrick Green

Research Focus: Animal behavior, biomechanics

I'm interested in connections between animal behavior and biomechanics, using animal weapons as a study system. I'm currently studying how mantis shrimp resolve aggressive contests. Since mantis shrimp have weapons that can easily crack open prey items, how do they resolve contests without killing each other? So far, I've found that size-matched competitors use the ritualized exchange of strikes on the tailplate (telson) to resolve contests, and that winners strike a greater number of times, not with greater force (Green & Patek 2015). I'm currently using biomechanical analyses to investigate energy transfer during this "telson sparring", and further behavioral analyses to study the transitions between sparring and other contest behaviors. See more info at my personal website:

Jacob Harrison

Research Focus: Evolution and Biomechanics of Defensive Morphology

Jacob is a first year PhD student in the biology program at Duke University and a new addition to the Patek Lab. He attended the University of California Santa Cruz where he received a B.S. in Marine Biology and a B.S. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. While at UCSC, Jacob worked as an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Rita Mehta’s lab researching the scaling of dentition and diet in the California Moray, Gymnothorax mordax. His interest in defensive morphology was sparked during a class at the University of Washington at Friday Harbor Labs, where he worked on the ontogeny and performance of cranial spines in the Great Sculpin, Myoxocephalus polyacanthocephalus. While at Duke, Jacob hopes to build his research questions around the evolution and biomechanics of defensive morphology.

Alex Guo

Research Focus: Interfacial flows, biomechanics

Hongtao (Alex) Guo received his B.S. from Beihang University majoring in mechanical engineering. He joined Duke’s department of mechanical engineering and material science as a PhD student in 2015. His PhD research focuses on phase-change heat transfer and other interfacial phenomena at the micro- and nanoscale. Starting in the spring 2017 semester, he became a visiting research assistant in the Patek Lab where he is investigating impulsive biological systems. He hopes to study them from an engineering standpoint and be inspired by intricate systems in nature.

Samantha Kisare

Research Focus: Behavioral research and aquarium animal husbandry

Samantha (Class of 2017) is pursuing the pre-med track with a Biology major. After visiting the Duke Marine Lab, she became particularly interested in marine biology, and she enjoys pursuing this interests in the Patek Lab. She is currently conducting her own independent research project on mantis shrimp behavior, and also regularly assists with data analysis and animal care.

Rachel Cohn

Research Focus: Aquarium animal husbandry

Rachel is currently a second-year undergraduate student at Duke (class of 2019), planning to major in biology and environmental science. Her interests in ecological research and marine science led her to the Patek lab, where she takes care of the mantis shrimp and maintains the aquarium system.

John Xie

Research Focus: Aquarium animal care

John is currently a second-year undergraduate at Duke (class of 2019), planning to major in mechanical engineering. His passion for marine life and curiosity of mantis shrimp led him to the Patek lab, where he takes care of mantis shrimp and maintains the aquarium system.

Wilson Brace

Research Focus: Mantis shrimp behavior and strike mechanics

Wilson is currently a senior at Duke (class of 2017), majoring in Biology with the goal of continuing on to medical school. He helps with research as well as maintaining the aquarium system in the lab. In particular, he is interested the unique biological structures in mantis shrimp as well as the exploration of mantis shrimp behavior in terms of feeding, competition and their signature strike.

Riya Dange

Research Focus: Neurocircuitry, Vision, and Coordinated Strike Mechanisms

Riya Dange is a second-year undergraduate at Duke (Class of 2019), intending to major in Neuroscience and attend Medical School. Marine Biology first piqued her interest when she was nine. After an afternoon spent snorkeling at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, she developed a lifelong fascination with marine creatures and their way of life. In the lab, Riya is working on neurocircuitry research connecting stomatopods’ unique visual systems to their remarkable physiological capabilities.

Casey Thompson

Research Focus: Trap-jaw ant biomechanics

Casey is currently a student at Charles E. Jordan High School in Durham North Carolina. He is a highly motivate​​d individual who enjoyed working on many chemistry and physics science projects. He is really excited to be a part of the Patek lab and helping Dr. Kuo research the ultrafast mandibles of the trap-jaw ants. Casey plans to go to college and major in biomechanics.

Brooke Sauer

Research Focus: Evolutionary biomechanics

Brooke Sauer is a biology and AP Biology instructor at Durham School of the Arts (DSA) in Durham, NC. In addition to her teaching duties, Brooke also serves as department chairperson and independent study advisor for DSA seniors completing medical research at Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. For the past two summers, she has completed both clinical and laboratory research at Duke Clinical Research Institute and UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine, respectively. Brooke has a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Biological Sciences from Clemson University. Outside of academia, Brooke enjoys making music, cooking, and exploring the Triangle.