Pub talk to dive into the idea of jellyfish-inspired submersibles

June 6, 2019 - 5:00am

Jellyfish are cool, and how they move in water could influence tomorrow’s submersibles, says a University of Oregon marine biologist who will explain that idea in a June 12 pub talk.

Jellyfish live in oceans around the world, varying in diameter from well under an inch to more than 6.5 feet. While made up of mostly water, they are most widely known for their toxin-equipped tentacles that can sting swimmers and curious beachgoers who find them washed ashore. Jellyfish have been around for hundreds of millions of years.

“There is a diversity of jelly organisms in the oceans,” said Kelly Sutherland, an associate professor in the Department of Biology. “They have different shapes, sizes and strategies. And they are also very beautiful.”

Sutherland, also a member of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, has studied jellyfish in the Pacific Ocean off the U.S. West Coast and Panama and in the Mediterranean Sea off France. The National Science Foundation supports her work.

In her Wednesday, June 12, Quack Chats talk, “How Jellyfish May Propel the Future Design of Underwater Devices,” she will use videos and imagery of jellies and jellylike relatives that move through the water with multiple jets delivering precision pulses of power.

The talk will begin at 6 p.m. at the Ax Billy Grill & Sports Bar, on the third floor of the Downtown Athletic Club, 999 Willamette St. Admission is free. Food and drinks will be available for purchase.

“My lab is interested in jellyfish for bioinspired design,” said Sutherland, who last fall conducted research on tiny plankton, which also maneuver similarly, at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography as part of a yearlong sabbatical. “If we can understand in a really detailed way how these organisms are able to swim, then we may be able to apply some of those principles in a design context for underwater vehicles.”

Such an effort is meant to move past propeller-driven underwater vehicles that can travel quickly but lack low-speed maneuverability. That deficiency, she said, is vital for exploring hard-to-reach underwater environments such as coral reefs and deep-sea vents.

Sutherland’s love for jellies emerged during an internship at the New England Aquarium in Boston while a student at Tufts University. After completing bachelor’s degrees in biology and child development, she worked at the aquarium, raising jellies from their tiny polyp stage to adulthood, a process called strobilation, to prepare them for public display.

She later earned master’s and doctoral degrees in marine sciences and biological oceanography, respectively, from the University of South Alabama and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

To learn more about upcoming Quack Chats, see the Quack Chats section on Around the O. A general description of Quack Chats and a calendar of additional Quack Chats and associated public events also can be found on the UO’s Quack Chats website.

—By Jim Barlow, University Communications