Meet our authors (1): Olga

Softbites team introduces its official authors. Find here the first post of our series of interviews. You can read Olga’s posts here.

Who are you and what is your research focus?

I’m a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech studying the biomechanics of maggots – specifically, black soldier fly larvae. These larvae eat twice their body weight per day in food waste. They are raised by startups all over the world as a source of sustainable chicken and fish feed. I study how these larvae eat so much, the physics of their interactions with each other and their environment, and how to better raise them in industry.

black soldier fly larva
Here is an up-close picture of a black soldier fly larva.

Why do you think the science you do is important?

This research is important for two reasons. First, it will help find methods for startups to raise larvae better, so that they can be a sustainable and economically feasible source of protein. Second, this project is an example of “active matter” — how groups of self-propelled particles interact with each other and move in interesting ways. The collective motion of fly larvae, bacteria, and birds in flocks have a lot in common, and I am investigating the physics that leads to that.

When did you first know you wanted to be a scientist and what were the crucial steps that took you to your current project?

I’ve been interested in science all my life. I went to college for engineering but quickly realized that I love discovering how the world works even more than designing new technology. When I realized I could use my engineering skills to understand how animals move, I knew I was on the right track.

Olga Shishkov, Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech

What are you passionate about outside of science?

When I started my Ph.D., I also started doing aerial silks.  This hobby is both great exercise and a fun distraction. I can’t worry about a paper or exam while hanging on to a piece of fabric by one hand upside down 15 feet in the air!

Why did you choose to write for Softbites?

I have really bad science FOMO. Whenever I read about an exciting new study, I wish I was working on what I just read about. However, I can’t just abandon the work I’m doing on my maggots! Writing about the papers I enjoy reading lets me explore them enough to get back to my work. I also really enjoy writing, and as a Softbites writer, I can write with a more fun style than in an academic paper. Finally, it’s important to communicate science to the public, and soft matter needs more attention from the science communication community.

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