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Westfield State alumnus, professor publish paper in Journal of Experimental Biology

Westfield State University alumnus Jarrod Petersen ’19 and Assistant Professor of Biology Jason Ramsay, Ph.D., recently had a paper titled “Walking on chains: the morphology and mechanics behind the fin ray derived limbs of sea-robins,” published in the September 28, 2020, issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Their research revealed that the design of sea-robin limbs may have practical applications in the development of human limb prosthetics. “The remaining muscles from an amputated leg, which are typically close to the trunk of the body, may be able to power a prosthetic limb build like a sea-robin limb,” said Dr. Ramsay.

“We have known for centuries that sea-robins had these small limbs for walking. It was also known that the limbs were modified fin rays. What we did not know was how such multi-jointed, flexible structures were capable of being used as limbs. It seemed counterintuitive. We now know what features are required for this ability and can use those data in comparisons of other living species and fossil species to get a better idea of when these modifications first arose in the evolutionary history of sea-robins.”

The Journal of Experimental Biology (JEB) is the leading primary research journal in comparative physiology and is published by The Company of Biologists, a not-for-profit publishing organization dedicated to supporting and inspiring the biological community.

Dr. Ramsay served as a mentor and faculty advisor for Petersen’s senior honors thesis. “He suggested the sea-robin project, something of personal interest,” Petersen explained. “He thought it might bridge his interests with fish morphology and my clinical interest.”

A North Attleboro native, Petersen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Westfield State in 2019 and distinction as a recipient of the Westfield State President’s Award for Excellence in Leadership. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in Brown University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The research was supported by the University’s Center for Undergraduate Research andCreative Activity (CURCA), Honors Program, Institutional Advancement, and Student Affairs Departments.

“None of this would have been possible without the mentorship from Dr. Ramsay, the opportunity to complete a senior honors project, or the support I received from faculty in the Biology Department and CURCA,” Petersen said. “I learned that scientific research is real cutting-edge science, and the outcomes are not predetermined, which changed my perspective.”

Both professor and student are humbled to be published.

“I am ecstatic to have our work published in JEB, one of the top journals in my fields of biology (functional morphology, and biomechanics),” said Professor Ramsay. “Jarrod is now not just a student of science; he is a contributor to science. Personally, I feel that publication should be the culmination of any project. It is the end goal of all undergraduate projects conducted in my lab.” 

Petersen agreed: “It is incredible to have my work published in a professional journal, which has contributed to the greater body of knowledge and may inspire future research and experiments. It is this knowledge about what science and research can be that I have relayed to students since I first discovered it.”

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