Gemma Cupples PhD MSci

Gemma Cupples

School of Mathematics
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Contact details

School of Mathematics
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

After completing an MSci. and Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Birmingham, Gemma took up a role as Research Fellow in Mathematical Biology, in collaboration with Birmingham Women’s Hospital, in January 2018. The research is focussed around the generation of new algorithms for the automatic detection and analysis of sperm flagellum, including experimental work obtaining images of sperm propulsion.


MSci in Mathematics, University of Birmingham 2014


Gemma graduated with an MSci in Mathematics from the University of Birmingham in 2010 and remained at Birmingham to complete her PhD entitled ‘Fibre-laden flows in biology and biotechnology’, a project partly funded by Linear Diagnostics Ltd. During her PhD, Gemma was a finalist in the Three Minute Thesis Competition and a member of the Equality and Diversity Committee in the School of Mathematics. Upon submission of her thesis, Gemma began her postdoc with Professor Dave Smith focussing on sperm motility in January 2018, working alongside the Centre for Human Reproductive Science at Birmingham Women’s Hospital (Science Lead Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown).

Gemma’s research interests include propulsion and peristaltic motion in non-Newtonian fluids and the flow-induced alignment of particle suspensions used to detect pathogens in fluid samples. These interests have inspired international collaboration with researches working in Adelaide and Auckland.


Gemma has many research interests in the area of non-Newtonian fluid mechanics.

Particle suspensions

Gemma worked jointly with Linear Diagnostics Ltd to maximise the signal to noise ratio for flows of particle suspensions in thin rectangular channels. This involved a combination of experimental work and analytical and numerical solution to the coupled non-Newtonian flow equations and a Fokker-Planck equation governing fibre distribution.

Microscopic propulsion

Alongside Dave Smith and Rosemary Dyson, Gemma developed analytical solutions adapting Taylor’s classical swimming sheet model to account for an active aligned suspension of elongated particles. These suspensions relate to the fibrous cervical mucus of many internally fertilising species; the efficiency of sperm propulsion through cervical mucus is an important factor in fertilisation. They deduced that propulsion in this media was drastically different from Newtonian fluids, with certain particle configurations providing an easier pathway for propulsion. This lead to Gemma’s current research project investigating the automation of tracking sperm flagella.

Connections between active and transversely-isotropic media

Alongside Craig Holloway, Rosemary Dyson and Dave Smith at the University of Birmingham, Ed Green at the University of Adelaide and Richard Clarke at the University of Auckland, Gemma investigated links between active suspensions of elongated particles and Ericksen’s transversely-isotropic model, describing fluids with a preferred direction.


G. Cupples, R.J. Dyson and D.J. Smith, ‘Viscous propulsion in active transversely isotropic media’ J. Fluid. Mech., 812, 501-524, 2017.