Austin Garner

Austin Garner

Title: IB PhD Student
Research Specialty: Biological adhesion, functional morphology, animal behavior, biomimicry, and bio-inspired materials
Dept/Program: Biology
Office: ASEC E511


I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Akron in May 2016, with an interest in vertebrate zoology. My initial interest in research began after I participated in a study investigating gecko adhesion on wet fluoropolymer substrates in Dr. Peter Niewiarowski’s research lab. In the summer of 2014, I fully researched, designed, and executed a study investigating the effects of water on adhesive locomotion in geckos. After learning many critical research skills at the conclusion of both projects, I began rethinking my previous desire to pursue a career at a zoological institution or as a field biologist. With my newfound interest in research, my career goals changed dramatically and I decided to pursue a PhD in the Integrated Bioscience PhD Program here at the University of Akron. I continue my work on gecko adhesion with co-advisors, Dr. Peter Niewiarowski (Department of Biology) and Dr. Ali Dhinojwala (Department of Polymer Science).

There is a vast amount of morphological, behavioral, and functional variation in vertebrate locomotor systems, and I am interested in how various morphologies and behaviors are related to the performance and function of these systems. I am applying this framework to my investigations of lizard subdigital adhesive pads. Gekkonid and Anolis lizards have independently evolved fibrillar adhesive structures, but the morphology of these structures are quite different for these taxa. Anoles have single fibers equipped with one triangular-shaped contact point, while geckos have branched, hierarchical fibers terminating in hundreds to thousands of smaller triangular-shaped contacts. There appears to be microscale variation in the morphological properties of these structures both within and between individuals and species of geckos and anoles, but it is unclear how this morphological variation affects performance or particular attributes of lizard adhesive systems (e.g., adhesion to rough substrates, self-cleaning, etc.). Furthermore, it is currently unclear whether variation in performance of these systems is at all related to behavioral choices these lizards make in artificial or natural habitats. I plan to investigate these topics utilizing both micro-scale (e.g., scanning electron microscopy, optical profilometry) and macro-scale measurements (e.g., adhesive and locomotor performance, behavioral assays) in both laboratory and ecologically relevant conditions. Beyond researching these themes in a biological context, I am interested in applying this information to the design and fabrication of gecko-inspired synthetic adhesives that can operate under a variety of environmental conditions.

I was initially drawn to the Integrated Bioscience program because I had the opportunity to witness the productivity of integrated research during my undergraduate research experiences. Dr. Niewiarowski’s research group regularly collaborates with Dr. Ali Dhinojwala’s lab in the Department of Polymer Science, and that interaction allows us to investigate the gecko adhesive system from numerous directions, discover previously unknown characteristics and patterns, and answer more complex research questions.  


‡Denotes equal contribution of authors *Denotes undergraduate co-author

Garner, A.M., C. Buo, J.M. Piechowski, A.M. Pamfilie*, S.R. Stefanovic, A. Dhinojwala, and P.H. Niewiarowski. 2019. Digital hyperextension has no influence on the active self-drying of gecko adhesive subdigital pads. Journal of Experimental Zoology – Part A. PDF.

Cohn, E.*‡, P. Cole*‡, A. Haymaker*‡, A.M. Garner, and R.L. Londraville. 2019. Response to Underwater Laser Pointer in the Orange-Finned Anemonefish Amphiprion chrysopterus and Three-spot Damselfish Dascyllus trimaculatus. Journal of Fish Biology. PDF.

Gamel, K.M., A.M. Garner, and B.E. Flammang. 2019. Bioinspired remora adhesive disc offers insight into evolution. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 14(5): 1-8. PDF

Niewiarowski, P.H., A. Dhinojwala, and A.M. Garner. 2019. Adapting a thermal physical model approach to estimate gecko adhesion performance opportunity and constraint: How rough could it be? Integrative and Comparative Biology 59(1): 203-213.  PDF

Garner, A.M., M.C. Wilson, A.P. Russell, A. Dhinojwala, and P.H. Niewiarowski. 2019. Going Out on a Limb: How Investigation of the Anoline Adhesive System can Enhance our Understanding of Fibrillar Adhesion. Integrative and Comparative Biology 59(1): 61-69. PDF

McInerney, S.J., B. Khakipoor, A.M. Garner, T. Houette‡, C.K. Unsworth‡, A. Rupp, N. Weiner, J.F.V. Vincent, J.K.S. Nagel, and P.H. Niewiarowski. 2018. E2BMO: Facilitating User Interaction with a BioMimetic Ontology via Semantic Translation and Interface Design. Designs 2(4): 53. PDF

Garner, A.M., S.M. Lopez, and P.H. Niewiarowski. 2017. Brown anole (Anolis sagrei) adhesive forces remain unaffected by partial claw clipping. Acta Herpetologica 12(2): 133-137. PDF

Garner, A.M., A.Y. Stark, S.A. Thomas, and P.H. Niewiarowski. 2017. Geckos go the Distance: Water’s Effect on the Speed of Adhesive Locomotion in Geckos. Journal of Herpetology 51:240-244. PDF


  • B.Sc. in Biology, magna cum laude; The University of Akron