Faces of BioSCAN: The Amazing Adam Wall

Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

Photo by Kelsey Bailey.


By Emily Hartop

When the BioSCAN Project moved into the Marine Biodiversity Center, the whole team soon realized the project required myriad people, talents, and skills. Adam Wall, Assistant Collections Manager of Crustacea, has a keen interest in problem solving, and soon found himself helping USC students seek answers to BioSCAN-related questions.

Adam comes from a fascinating background in electrical engineering. He previously worked for JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a part of NASA) on robotics. I was excited to learn that he worked on walking robots called “spiderbots” — which even pre-BioSCAN he realized would be more accurately termed “insectbots”, due to their having six legs instead of eight. These walking robots were being developed as alternatives to the more traditionally wheeled or tracked robots used both in space and military applications. Walking robots were smaller, more versatile, and less expensive than their traditional counterparts. Adam eventually moved on to a small startup company where he helped construct robots still used by USC to teach robotics.

Adam eventually left the world of robotics to study at USC. Although he initially pursued biochemistry, it was through his work study at the Natural History Museum that he first realized his love for biology. Working upstairs with Dr. Regina Wetzer, it was all about “coffee and problem solving”, two things Adam finds irresistible. When he casually mentioned to Regina that one day he would like to name and describe a species, he had no idea the journey he was about to embark on. Adam has spent the last five years revising a subgenus within the isopod genus Exosphaeroma. A single, poorly described species from 1857 has become five species stretching from Alaska to Baja. Perhaps best of all, Adam got to name a species of isopod after his closest uncle.

Now that his isopod work is coming to completion, he is unsure of what the future might hold. His big goal is always the question, the problem solving — we could find him studying just about anything next! For now, though, he is helping our students with both the genetics work in the lab, and the study of Wolbachia, a bacteria that lives inside the reproductive organs of insects. This bacteria can affect the life history of its host, and the “sheer insanity” of the relationship intrigues Adam.

When he’s not consumed by isopods or BioSCAN, Adam delights us with his fondness for mechanical toys. Above, you can see him powering a miniature version of the amazing Strandbeests.


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