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Detecting Electric Fish

Hi! I’m Shreya and I just graduated from the Dwarkadas J. Sanghvi College of Engineering affiliated to the University of Mumbai in Electronics Engineering. During the last two years of my undergraduate study, I spent most of my vacations, free time and some weekends working as a research intern at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay where I completed several computer programming and embedded electronics projects. My undergraduate capstone project had me working with Artificial Neural Networks for ECG beat classification. This project was also completed at and funded by IIT Bombay.

Me on a train in India (during our final year class trip to Rishikesh)

Recently I have been really interested in neuroscience and EEGs, which is how I discovered Backyard Brains. I had been following their blog and Facebook posts for a few months, and that’s how I found out about this internship! I joined Backyard Brains on 12th June (got delayed because of final exams!) and I will be working on the Electric Fish project here for six months. This is my first time in the USA and so far, it’s been great! I’ve been enjoying the climate here – it’s a good change from the intense summer heat in Mumbai. I also love how Ann Arbor has so many different flower species!

Me and some beautiful flowers in Ann Arbor

Electric fish are a really interesting type of animal that can generate and detect electric fields around them to either stun prey or to communicate with other electric fish, detect objects and navigate. However, finding them and tracking them can be difficult, and many species have yet to be discovered! This project is aimed at building a device which can be deployed into the freshwater rivers of South America to detect and record the Electric Organ Discharges (EOD) of weakly electric fish as they swim past it. Each species has a unique EOD, which can be either wave-type or pulse-type. So, based on the nature of the recorded EOD, the species of the fish can be estimated and it can also be used to study the behaviour of the fish. This project is based on the research that Dr. Eric Fortune of the New Jersey Institute of Technology conducted in Ecuador. I will be using the Elephant Nose fish to test the device while prototyping.

Elephant Nose fish (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Elephant Nose fish produces EODs which look like spikes when recorded using electrodes. So far, I have been able to amplify and see these spikes on an oscilloscope. I will be improving the filter and amplifier, using an Arduino to detect spikes in the recorded data, and saving this information along with time stamps on an SD card. Some of the challenges I will be facing while designing this are that the device needs to be waterproof and it should have power saving capabilities since it might have to run on batteries or solar energy for months at a time to be able to detect any electric fish.

Below are some of the spikes I recorded from the Elephant Nose fish as seen on an oscilloscope (along with 60 Hz noise).

I’m really enjoying working on this project here, at Backyard Brains, and I look forward to finishing this project!

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