"Jellyfish Lab" Inspires Research and Creativity for Sophia Tintori SCB'09
As a little girl, Sophia Tintori spent many hours happily constructing "janky little things" out of cardboard and string. It should come as no surprise, then, that during her years at Brown, she sought out classes that allowed her to mesh her creative side (writing, art, and literature) with her more scientific one (biology). Working in the lab of Casey Dunn, Manning Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, she found the perfect balance.
"I always enjoyed science but never understood what it would be like to be a scientist," she explains. "I joined Casey’s ‘jellyfish lab’ not long after he came to Brown, so it was a small group—just him and four undergraduate students. In many labs one might go weeks without seeing their principle investigator, but in those days Casey was the only one around who could teach us even the most trivial procedures—which I felt guilty about, but also enjoyed."
I feel that having access to this whole institution has been a rare and special opportunity. – Sophia Tintori ScB ’09
After Sophia’s graduation, Dunn, who had just received a grant that included funds for an outreach project, encouraged her to stay on as a research assistant. She did, journeying to California to interview a marine biologist. A self-confessed "member of the YouTube generation" who had taken a RISD animation course while an undergraduate, Sophia recalls storyboarding the tape-recorded interview "with low-fi animation" during the editing process. The resultant product, uploaded to the internet, became the basis for CreatureCast, which reveals the unexpected world of animals through animation, podcasts and text.
The "how" it’s done is fairly simple: The lab possesses a video camera and microscopes equipped with special cameras to catch the smaller creatures. Sophia edits the footage on her laptop. As for the why: "I’ve witnessed awesome things, like the ‘birth’ of baby jellyfish," she says. "I could store them in my memory bank as something that made my life special. Or, I could film them and share them with the wider community."
Dunn’s lab has grown since he first arrived in 2007 and now includes two post-docs, two techs, two grad students, and two undergraduates. Dunn himself just received the prestigious National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award. And although Sophia still enjoys her work there as a lab tech, she feels it’s time to continue her education. Her next stop? The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she’s looking to achieve a Ph.D. in developmental biology.
"I appreciated my undergraduate years for what they were," she says. "I didn’t want to hold my breath and run through them as fast as I could; I wanted to be efficient and explore. Working with Casey affirmed the idea that I could do research and live the kind of life I wanted to live. He viewed my interests as an asset, and not a distraction.
"I feel that having access to this whole institution has been a rare and special opportunity."
This story originally appeared on the Boldly Brown: Campaign for Academic Enrichment website in May 2011.