Fri 31 Aug 2012
Dancing Woods Hole squid skin became an Internet sensation this week in the form of “Insane in the Chromatophores,” a bass-thumping music video by Greg Gage of Backyard Brains, who made it while visiting the MBL to lecture in two summer neuroscience courses.
In its first week online (8/23-30), “Insane” racked up more than 1.3 million hits and reached #1 on YouTube’s “most popular videos” chart, and was picked up by nearly 100 media outlets and blogs, from Time Magazine to MSN to Discovery Magazine.
Using hip-hop music pumped out of his iPod, Gage sent electrical current into the squid’s fin, which caused its nerve cells to fire and the skin’s shimmery red, brown, and yellow pigment organs to muscularly expand and contract in rhythm with the song’s booming bass.
He then recorded the dancing chromatophores using an 8x microscope and posted the video on the Internet, which responded with, “Wow!”
The unexpected hit came about like many an MBL collaboration: serendipitously. Gage, whose Background Brains is devoted to bringing neuroscience to children and the masses, had previously done a similar experiment with an iPod and a cockroach, which he performed for a TED audience. What would happen if he pumped the iPod’s current into squid skin, Gage wondered? While in the MBL’s Marine Resources Center attempting to capture a squid from a tank (not an easy thing to do), MBL squid expert Roger Hanlon happened to walk in the room, saw Gage struggling, and offered to help. The two started talking, and Hanlon introduced Gage to a post-doc in his lab, Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido. She had just the squid-skin prep Gage needed, as she and fellow post-docs Trevor Wardill and Robyn Crook had developed it for a study of squid skin iridescence (published by the Royal Society on August 15).
“Insane in the Chromatophores” gave a huge – and colorful — boost to the visibility of this Hanlon lab research. Another spin-off is a new, ongoing collaboration between one of the MBL Methods in Computational Neuroscience class students, Emily Machevicius of MIT, and the Hanlon lab, using similar videos of electrophysiologically stimulated skin preps. “We might consider this the first ‘summer course/resident research lab’ interaction this summer under the aegis of the Program in Sensory Physiology and Behavior,” Hanlon says. “Thanks to Greg Gage for making it happen!” (Gage is an alumnus of the MBL’s Neural Systems and Behavior (2010) and Neuroinfomatics (2005) courses).
(Note on the music video: This song, like many hip-hop songs, contains explicit language. Parental guidance suggested. “Hip-hop was required as classical music lacks the bass,” Gage noted.)