Jake Socha, professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been named the Samuel Herrick Professor by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The Samuel Herrick Professorship in the College of Engineering was established by a gift from Betulia Herrick, wife of Samuel Herrick, to honor her late husband, a founder of the field of astrodynamics, who advanced the field of space exploration. The professorship recognizes excellence in teaching and research. Recipients hold it for a period of five years.

A member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 2008, Socha’s research and scholarship have placed him as a world leader in two areas – the understanding of flying snakes and internal synchrotron imaging of insects. His work aims to uncover fundamental principles of how animals function from a mechanical perspective and apply those principles to new engineering design.

From experimental and theoretical analyses, Socha’s research team is uncovering the mechanisms that enable flying snakes to glide, including a discovery that their undulation in the air produces dynamic stability, a fundamentally different function from all other undulating life forms for terrestrial and aquatic movement. Studies of fluid flows in the circulatory, respiratory, and feeding systems of insects are important for the insects’ role in ecology and medically in understanding disease transmission.

Socha has authored or coauthored two book chapters and 54 peer-reviewed journal publications. The most prominent publications are in high profile journals including Science, Nature, Nature Physics, PNAS, and Scientific Reports. His research has been featured worldwide in more than 150 news media pieces including the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic magazine, CNN, and NPR, and it has also been the subject of three television programs on National Geographic Television, BBC, and PBS.

Over his career, Socha has received $8.9 million in research funding, with $4.5 million as his personal share. In these efforts, he has advised eight Ph.D. and six master’s degree students to completion of their degrees, and has mentored more than 100 undergraduates in research. He currently advises five Ph.D. students.

Socha received his bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and conducted postdoctoral research fellowship at Argonne National Laboratory.

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