Last year, JellyLab made our first visit to Dublin Maker. We didn’t really know what to expect before we got there. The day itself went by in a chaotic blur, but afterwards we were certain of two things; we were all exhausted, but mainly that we certain we would be back in 2019!
So, who are we? JellyLab are a bunch of research scientists based in UCD School of Medicine who work on a range of topics, including neuroscience and bioadhesives. A common thread linking much of our research is the little jellyfish-like creatures we work with; comb jellies (or ctenophores) – hence the name!
But we’re also makers and explorers that like to sprinkle a little creativity into our work. As scientists, we make the tools to best fit the questions we’re asking. Our lab probably looks a little different to most biomedical research labs. Many people imagine research labs as looking like neat, sterile rows of bottles and flasks and shiny surfaces, but ours is filled with wires and motors and 3D printers and random bits of electronics and mechanical parts, and probably more closely resembles a back garden shed!
This DIY ethos is central to our work, and we build a lot of our own equipment on demand, like this automated microscopes and centrifuges made from cheap, off the shelf components that anyone could buy and assemble if they wanted. We’ve been trying to spread the word of this approach among other researchers and professional scientists, but science with cheap, accessible tools democratises discovery – anyone can be a scientist.
That’s what we’re doing at Dublin Maker – showing that discovery and exploration is not just for “trained scientists”, but that anyone can learn to ask and answer questions as a scientist.
Right, so what about specifics? We’ll be bringing along some of our home-brew lab equipment, like our microscopes, and we’ll be giving out some simple silicone lenses we make that turn your phone camera into a microscope – anyone can explore the micro world!
What else? We use 3D printed anatomical models in anatomy teaching in UCD, and many of these models have been developed by the medicine students themselves. They’ll be there with us on the day showing their work, but this year we’ll also have “jelly brain surgery” for everyone to try out too!
And, of course, we’ll bring along some comb jellies. We’ll demonstrate how simple experiments and observations can be used to ask and answer questions about the world around us, and we can tell you what little jellies can teach us about the human brain. You can also get hands on with some experiments looking at how tiny shrimp respond to different colours of light, and with some of our new equipment we’ve made to image the jellies in 3D.
With lasers. Because everything is better with lasers.