NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology FY 2015

Project: Research project

Project Details


This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2015, Broadening Participation. The fellowship supports a research and training plan in a host laboratory for the Fellow and a plan to broaden participation of groups under-represented in science. The title of the research plan for this fellowship to Margaret Byron is 'How comb jellyfish swim and navigate in ocean turbulence.' The host institution for this fellowship is the University of California Irvine, with secondary support to be provided by Stanford University; the sponsoring scientists are Matthew J. McHenry (UCI) and John O. Dabiri (Stanford).

Ctenophores, commonly called comb jellyfish, are widespread in the earth's oceans and play an important role in the marine food chain. They are also the largest organisms that swim using cilia, a type of locomotion which is normally reserved for much smaller organisms and animals, in both fresh and salt water. Only a few centimeters in size, ctenophores live in a complex and turbulent environment, full of gusts and eddies that dwarf them in size. Despite their relatively simple propulsion system, ctenophores are very agile and maneuverable, retaining impressive control over their orientation and position in the midst of these chaotic surroundings. This research uses high-speed cameras and flow visualization techniques to study how ctenophores move in response to turbulent gusts, showing how they adapt their behavior to the surrounding flow. This will provide clues to their preferred habitats, population dynamics, and ecological roles. In addition to the basic knowledge of locomotion being gained, a better understanding of the principles of ciliated locomotion promises to aid improvements in locomotion and navigation in small underwater robots, important platforms for exploration and discovery in the aquatic environment.

This research at the interface of biology and engineering affords the Fellow the opportunity to enhance her background in engineering with training in biology and career advancement opportunties in both fields. The joint sponsorship and interdisciplinary setting provide a foundation for an eventual independent research program at the intersection of fluid dynamics and aquatic animal locomotion. Educational outreach includes supervising and mentoring undergraduate research assistants recruited from programs serving underrepresented minorities. The students are deeply involved in the project, including experiments, analysis, and the presentation and publication of results. The results are being made available to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which provides animals and experimental facilities for the research, and are being incorporated into programs and educational displays for the general public and school groups. As a further effort to engage the public with biology, ocean science, fluid dynamics, and biomechanics research in general, the Fellow is curating an online repository of research results and other relevant work as well as engaging the public via social media and other web-based tools.

Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $138,000.00


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