Showing posts from November, 2020


 "No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this" - "Desert Rose" by Sting Have you ever been stung by a jellyfish? Or touched the tentacle of an anemone? Some of them hurt; some don't. All cnidarians (jellies, anemones, and their relatives) have stinging cells in their tentacles called cnidocytes. Since I've been working on a paper about a cnidarian recently - the hydroid Bouillonia cornucopia - we're going to take a time-out and talk about cnidocytes. Cnidocysts in Bouillonia cornucopia . Photo by Caitlin Plowman. First of all, they're super cool. The "sting" you feel is actually a little mechanical barb piercing your skin. In some species, like intertidal green anemones on the west coast of North America ( Anthopleura xanthogrammica ), the barbs aren't strong enough to actually penetrate your skin, so it just feels sticky. Cnidarians use their barbs to capture prey and defend themselves against predators. A mechanical stimulus ch

Der Schrei der Natur

One of the best life decisions I ever made was taking two semesters of modern art my freshman year of college. It completely revolutionized my worldview. It taught me to embrace abstract expression. Every once in a while, I'll come across something in science that reminds me of a great work of art , and I absolutely love it when that happens.  The screaming hydroid gonophore. Photo by Caitlin Plowman Today, it was a microscope slide. Three holes in the gonophore of an athecate hydroid looked exactly like Edvard Munch's The Scream , and my mind went straight back to art class. Even though Munch was Norwegian, he originally titled the work in German  Der Schrei der Natur , which translates to "The cry of nature." And you know what, that microscopic artwork really spoke to me today. The Surrealist dreamscape of agony captured how I felt about deep-sea hydroid reproduction.  My major occupation this fall has been bringing half-finished projects one by one to the submissi


Just because I am staying home and modelling these days, doesn't mean everyone is. In fact, some members of our Stellwagen team have been busy in the field. We did the vast majority of the field work for our Stellwagen Telepresence Project (you know, the one with all the shipwrecks ) this summer with remotely-operated vehicles Pixel and PPE . We brought our audiences live to the sanctuary with telepresence in August, but one objective remained: find new shipwrecks.  Recovering REMUS at sea. Photo by Sean Whelan. You see, when we submitted the proposal for the Stellwagen project, we were planning to use sonar to survey the seafloor in the northeast corner of the sanctuary while we were at sea for telepresence . That didn't happen this year, thanks to covid , so we adopted a different strategy. We partnered with REMUS. REMUS stands for Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS, and they're a class of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). If you're not familiar with REMUS, I


Choose your life partner wisely, friends. I sure did.  My husband and I have both been working from home for a couple weeks, and as hard as it is for me to stay home so much, I'll admit, spending my workdays in close proximity to a robotics engineer has certain benefits. Take computer science, for example. As you know, I've recently been working to design a model that simulates how fouling communities undergo succession. I successfully simulated recruitment of different species and made them die off when the temperatures got too hot, but I was having a hard time making them grow. One problem was that my model took so long to run, I had to wait a good 10 minutes each time just to know if my latest tweak had worked. At that rate, generating 1,000 simulated datasets for 4 different models and 5 experimental treatments was going to have my computer running for over 3 years. It was untenable. I was probably going to have to learn how to use my institution's high-performance comp