Floris Van Breugel

Floris van Breugel

Assistant Professor
Floris Van Breugel


I run an interdisciplinary lab at the intersection of neuroscience, ecology, engineering, and data science. We focus on studying insects to learn how brains integrate information from different types of sensors across space and time to make complex sequences of decisions. Our lab specializes in real-time tracking, high speed video, optogenetics, and virtual reality to study freely moving flies. We primarily work with the fruit fly, Drosophila, because of the powerful genetic tools available that make it possible to probe the brain during active behavior. Then, aided by modern machine learning tools and control theory, we analyze the behavior, and implement the principles on robotic systems to verify that they actually work. One area of particular interest is how insects use odor, visual, and wind information to track chemical plumes.

Research interests

  • Biology:  Multi-sensory integration, temporal/spatial memory, and decision making during ecological relevant behaviors such as search
  • Robotics: How moving sensors can be controlled to gain new information about the environment
  • Data analysis: New methods for building models directly from data


Floris van Breugel earned his PhD from Caltech in 2014 in Control and Dynamical Systems under the support of NSF and Hertz graduate fellowships while working with Michael H Dickinson on insect flight biomechanics, control, and multi-sensory integration. He subsequently went to the University of Washington to work with Jeff Riffell and J Nathan Kutz as a Postdoc to work on insect search strategies and machine learning approaches to system identification of complex systems, supported by a Sackler Fellowship in Biophysics and a Moore-Sloan-WRF Fellowship in DataScience. Floris joined the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering at UNR in January 2019, and is a member of the Integrative Neuroscience Program, and Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology.

Selected publications

  1. Visual-olfactory integration in the human disease vector mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Vinauger, C., van Breugel, F., Locke, L., Tobin, K., Dickinson, M., Fairhall, A., Akbari, O., Riffell, J. (2019) Current Biology.
  2. Distinct activity-gated pathways mediate attraction and aversion to CO2 in Drosophila. van Breugel, F., Huda, A., and Dickinson, M. (2018) Nature.
  3. Superhydrophobic diving flies (Ephydra hians) and the hypersaline waters of Mono Lake. van Breugel, F and Dickinson, M. (2017) PNAS.
  4. Plume-Tracking behavior of flying Drosophila emerges from a set of distinct sensory-motor reflexes . van Breugel, F. and Dickinson, M. H. (2014). Current Biology.
  5. Monocular distance estimation from optic flow during active landing maneuvers. van Breugel, F., Morgansen, K. A., and Dickinson, M. H. (2014). Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.