I am deeply interested in understanding the coupling between sensory inputs and locomotor outputs in motile organisms. A classic example is that of chemotaxis in motile bacteria – in environments replete with a variety of chemical molecules, bacteria can alter their motility in ways that take them closer to the sources of molecules they like, and away from those they don’t. The bacterial chemotaxis pathway, from the chemosensors that sample the environment to the rotary flagellar motor that propels the cell through fluid environments, is one of the best understood in all of biology. In contrast, we know much less about how bacteria sense and respond to mechanical cues. This is the focus of my current research. I combine single-cell level physical perturbations with genetic, molecular and computational tools, to learn how the bacterial flagellar motor responds to changes in the mechanical load acting on it.
I studied Mechanical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, where I became utterly fascinated with fluid dynamics. Curious about how fluid dynamics may be important in biology, I spent 1.5 years as a Junior Research Fellow at National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, where I studied the physics of insect flight. For my master’s thesis at Virginia Tech, I delved into experimental fluid dynamics and studied non-coalescence between free jets of fluids (Wadhwa, Vlachos, and Jung, PRL 2013). Returning to the intersection between physics and biology in my PhD at Technical University of Denmark, I studied the propulsion hydrodynamics of marine zooplankton (Wadhwa, Andersen, and Kiørboe, JEB 2014; Andersen, Wadhwa, and Kiørboe, PRE 2015), and the physical principles underlying sensing in aquatic organisms (Martens, Wadhwa et al., PRSB 2015).