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Studying the Behavior of Baby Squids!

Hi everyone! My name is Christy and I will be a junior at Rice University this coming Fall. I am so excited and grateful to be part of the Backyard Brains fellowship program for this summer and will be studying longfin inshore squid hatchlings for my research project.

My Favorite People and my Favorite Place

At school, I am majoring in Computer Science and Cognitive Science and minoring in Neuroscience. I am specifically interested in the fields of computational neuroscience and artificial intelligence and I’ve really, really loved the classes I’ve taken in those topics so far. In my free time, I enjoy long walks on campus… as a tour guide!  I also perform with my school dance team and work at the McNair Center where I write classifier algorithms to identify startups and accelerators.

A Scenic Ann Arbor Destination

I have really enjoyed my time in Ann Arbor! It has been great meeting the other interns and exploring the city. So far, I’ve eaten a ton of excellent food (ZINGERMANS!), gotten lost in the Dawn Treader Bookstore, visited Lake Erie, willingly touched a cockroach for the first time in my life, and discovered “The Most Well Stocked Walgreens in the History of Time.”

As soon as I arrived here at Backyard Brains, a shipment of squid eggs had already arrived for me, so I hit the ground running! I mixed and aerated some seawater and placed the eggs in their new home. I’ve never worked with any sort of marine creatures before, so I was definitely worried that they were in the wrong hands! Fortunately, my brilliant advisor Eric Edsinger has been helping me remotely, and the squid babies hatched this Tuesday. I became the proud mother of a ton of squiddos (like kiddos, but squid).

Since then, I’ve been scrambling to capture quality videos of my squid swimming so that I can train computer software to track their movements! Once I have a program up and running, I will be receiving another shipment of squid and tracking them as they react to different environmental conditions like strong light, temperature fluctuations, and water movement. Very little is known about how these hatchlings behave, and I hope that by recording information about them, I can contribute to our understanding of these fascinating creatures.

My squid live in aerated buckets of saltwater, but for recording, I needed to come up with a simple, DIY transparent container. So, for now, the tiny squid are swimming around in Tic-Tac containers! (By the end of the summer, I suspect the other interns and I will be very sick of eating Tic-Tacs.) Unfortunately, the squid like to hide in the beveled edges of the container that the camera can’t capture properly, so today I built some blockers to stop them from entering that region. I also constructed a little lightbox to film them from with random materials I found in our makerspace and started filming! I got some images that look like this:

I think my squiddos are pretty cute, but I’m biased of course #momthings

The next step is turning them into images that look something like this:

Negative Image of Squid for Easier Computer Vision Tracking

Using edge detection and high-pass filters, I can track how the population reacts to different stimuli.

I am enjoying building my experimental setup, and I am excited to get started with my experiments!. I hope to produce meaningful results this summer! By recording and analyzing the squid’s behavior in response to certain stimuli, I can begin to hypothesize why the squid behave in such a way, thus prompting further scientific experiments! I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to spend my summer learning and studying at Backyard Brains and can’t wait to update the blog soon!

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