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Secret Life of Jellyfish

Hello all! My name is Anastasiya and I’m a computer engineering and neuroscience double major at the University of Cincinnati. I’m curious about the world around me and my favorite thing to do is learn. My hobbies include making strange noises, fangirling over the fuel efficiency of my car, and volunteering while spreading knowledge to the general public. I mainly volunteer at the Cincinnati Observatory, home of the oldest professional telescope open to the public, and at Cincinnati Public Schools, where I help out with a Lego League robotics club and mentor a group of high school scholars.

This summer I’m investigating ‘The Secret Life of Jellyfish’, specifically, of the clytia hemisphaerica. They’re super tiny (they max out at about 20mm in diameter) and seem to be capable of doing things they shouldn’t be able to do. By that I mean that these jellyfish seem to exhibit relatively complex behaviors without making use of a brain (since they don’t have one). They’re also kind of ridiculous and paradoxical to me, because trying to lift one out of the water could easily kill the clytia since the surface tension of the water is too much for it to handle, but you can chop it in half and it’ll be just fine as two separate jellies. Weird (but cool)!

The current plan is to record videos of the jellyfish in various situations and then use some form of machine learning to figure out the jellies’ behavior. I’ve looked at some potential tracking software, libraries, and random snippets of code, and it seems that OpenCV is my best bet for analyzing the videos, so I’ve spent the last couple weeks learning about it and how to use it in Visual Studio 2017 with C++. But learning about code is not all I’ve done; I’ve also been preparing for the impending arrival of clytia hemisphaerica to our laboratory.

I first made sure to get a (hopefully) decent environment set up for them. Clytia hemisphaerica need salt water at a salinity of 1.0268, or 37 parts per thousand, and a small current to keep them swimming as this is critical to their health. The housing units I set up are based on the traditional beaker method and include 3.7L beakers (actually 6”x8” glass vases from Amazon) filled with artificial sea water as well as a constant current stimulator made of acrylic rectangles, hot glue, plastic pipettes, 12V 5RPM motors, some wires, and an AC to DC adapter. All of these things together should provide a nice home for the jellies when they arrive, but that is not all I need to prepare.

Jellyfish, like many living things, need a food source, and the one I’m preparing is artemia, otherwise known as brine shrimp. Brine shrimp are pretty easy to hatch, and just one cap-full of brine shrimp eggs makes a very large amount of baby brine shrimp, enough to turn an entire bottle and beaker a shade of orange. That must mean that, after a one-time investment of a large batch of artemia, I am all set on jellyfish food for the summer, right? Well, there’s a catch. The catch here is that clytia hemisphaerica should only eat 1.5 to 4 day old brine shrimp, and eating ones that are are outside this age range for prolonged periods of time could have deadly consequences for the poor jellies (and for my easily over-attached heart). This means I’ll have to constantly hatch and culture new batches of brine shrimp and keep track of hatch dates so I have the proper feed for these picky eaters.


At this point, I’m pretty sure everything is ready for the jellies to come in, and they should be gracing us with their presence any day now. I’m very excited to be working on this project as a fellow at Backyard Brains, and I can’t wait to see these jellyfish in person! The more I learn about them, the more mysterious and intriguing clytia hemisphaerica become, and I look forward to finding at least some pieces to the puzzle that is their behavior.


Without superpowers or a power drill there are only a couple ways we can observe brain activity and most of them require large expensive equipment:

                   Free shipping though…


Luckily, with the help of Backyard Brains, you can make the equipment yourself! This summer, I’m going to be using such DIY equipment to do some electroencephalography (or EEG) experiments to study meditation!

This has proven a difficult subject to define, though. Aside from problems that arise from isolating meditation from its spiritual context and marketing it as a panacea, the problem with meditation in scientific research is that it is it vaguely defined. A scientific review in 2014 that examined 47 trials with 3500+ participants found only moderate evidence for reduced anxiety, depression, and pain. However, one study showed that long term meditators have increased grey matter in certain areas of the brain after just 8 weeks of meditation.

What exactly is going on (or even not going on) during meditation? What actions or thoughts can be considered meditation? How do you take a rich spiritual concept into a standardized framework for testing? Can my 11-year-old brother teach me how to play the trumpet over video chat? Will the art school student survive the neuroscience fellowship? (Is neuroscience really for everyone?) Stay tuned to find out!

This past winter I stumbled upon Backyard Brains at the New York City Toy Fair and was enamored by their focus on accessible, hands-on education (ie. what I went to art school in search of). I learned about their research fellowship, applied, crossed my non-science-major fingers, and here I am! My name is Maria, and I’m originally from a little cul de sac in Silicon Valley, which is probably why I think that scientific validation is important, but I do think that technology has the potential to be used for things other than financial gain (like sibling bonding over video chat). At the Rhode Island School of Design, I rollerblade, study industrial design, and run a Sunset Club that goes to immersive natural environments to promote mental health awareness and health. I’m excited to learn how to make intimidating topics like neuroscience more accessible and understand the mechanisms of meditation to apply them to wellness in the community.

Bee-search: How Do Bees See

Hi everyone! I’m Molly, a senior Biology major at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Since my school’s mascot is a Yellow Jacket, I guess it’s very on-brand for me to be working with a similar insect, honey bees! But ironically, I’ve always thought I was allergic to bees. I had a reaction to a sting when I was little, but testing last month revealed I’m no longer allergic, and I’m hoping that stays the case! I’ve been getting over my fear of them slowly but surely, and now I love our pollinating friends!

                                                          My feelings on bees then…


My feelings on bees now (featuring Georgia Tech’s mascot Buzz)

This summer I’ll be looking at a specific aspect of how honey bees forage for food: optic flow, which is a facet of vision. As bees fly through their environment, they monitor the magnitude of perceived image motion (optic flow). This allows them to gauge distances. If you see bees outside a hive, they’re probably using this technique to find their way home. In order to examine this, we’re going to try to confuse them as much as possible. We will train them to forage in a tunnel, and then change the diameter and see if they think they have travelled farther or not as far as they have by changing optic flow. Once we get there, I have some ideas to try to take it a little further.

                           Compound eyes!


Visual representation of how optic flow works for bees as they travel through their environment

So far I have built my tunnel for training and painted it in vertical stripes to focus on optic flow. This week I will try some pilot tests having bees forage in the tunnel and make sure my recording system is functional. Hoping it works!

Bees are super important to us, therefore, so is understanding them!