Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Like a helix

For some reason, I always have a hard time leaving the lab. My days don't just end - they taper off. I'll get to the end of one task, feel the sense of accomplishment, cross it off my list, then scan around my office and inevitably find something else that needs to be done. I'll spin around and shuffle little items off of my list until my brain is convinced I can go home.

I spent a lot of time on the computer today, analyzing a dataset from last summer. I've told you about these data before - they concern the behavior of oyster larvae in different water conditions, and I'm using a code-based statistical program called Matlab for the analysis. To be honest, one of the best parts of this particular project is getting to work together with the other scientists involved. The data were collected by my advisor, Lauren, and an intern in her lab last summer, Erin. Some of the codes for the data analysis were written by Lauren's former Ph.D. student, Jeanette, and of course, some are written by me. I've gotten to know Jeanette and Erin through the process of analyzing the data, and it's actually interesting to notice we each have our own coding style. I could probably tell you which one of us had written a particular code within 2 seconds of opening the file.
An example of helical swimming behavior in an oyster larva

Today, I was using one of Jeanette's codes to detect what's called helical swimming behavior in the larvae. Sometimes, the larvae will swim in a spiral, moving up or down and exploring their environment as they go. Look at the figure to the right here for an example. The actual track the larva took is in the left panel, in blue. In reality, the larva was swimming in a helical pattern - a spiral - but since the camera can only see in two dimensions, it looks like it's just swimming back and forth. This actually works out well because the sinusoidal patterns in its horizontal velocity and position (the right two panels) help us detect helical swimming patterns.

Helical swimming is important because it's an exploratory behavior. In some water treatments, larvae may be exploring more than in others, which means they could take longer to find a place to settle and metamorphose to become an adult.

The code worked beautifully. I am continually amazed at what code-based programs can do - the possibilities are pretty darn close to infinite - so I'm glad that I'm finally learning the skill. Got to admit, I feel a little like that larva, though, spinning around my office, finding little tasks that need to get done. Ok, time to go home.

No comments:

Post a Comment