It was 10 PM on a Friday, and students in the MBL’s Neural Systems and Behavior Course (NS&B) were hard at work in their Loeb lab. Some hovered over contraptions used for monitoring fly flight behavior. Some peered through a microscope at a portion of the crab nervous system. Michael Dickinson of CalTech, a former co-director of NS&B, took a break from teaching as he strolled between lab machinery while strumming “The Girl from Ipanema” on a ukulele.

When cautioned not to stay up too late (they had a 9 AM lecture to attend the next day), course assistant Gaby Maimon replied, “Oh, we’re just getting started!”

NS&B students are in for eight weeks of rigorous labs and lectures, learning about the neural basis of behavior. According to course director Paul Katz of Georgia State University, whose research involves the strange movements of the colorful Spanish shawl sea slug, the students were using Friday night to finish up the second of four course cycles. In this cycle, students learned about fly flight behavior, the sensory systems of electric fish, and the stomatogastric nervous system of crabs, which controls movement of the crustacean’s stomach.

Friday morning, NS&B students had been treated to the second of two lectures by Dickinson, who has contributed greatly to the study of animal physiology and behavior. His fascinating talk covered several aspects of fly flight aerodynamics and behavior, including how fly flight might have evolved. Dickinson used high-speed photography and videos to illuminate the details of fly flight, and discussed recent advances in the study of animal behavior.

This week, NS&B students start cycle three of their course, studying the behaviors of the nematode worm C. elegans, the mouse, and the zebrafish.

Michael Dickinson explains the proper way to prepare and use tools for attaching electrodes to fly neurons.

Michael Dickinson explains the proper way to prepare and use tools for attaching electrodes to fly neurons. Photo by Sarah Stanley.

Gaby Maimon and student Margarita Agrochao attach an electrode to a fly neuron. The monitor on the left allows them to visualize the neuron and the electrode, while the right monitor displays the whole fly.

Course assistant Gaby Maimon and student Margarita Agrochao attach an electrode to a fly neuron. The monitor on the left allows them to visualize the neuron and the electrode, while the right monitor displays the whole fly. Photo by Sarah Stanley.