That’s genius: Caltech’s John Dabiri tells us why you should care about a brainless, boneless creature

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Rose Magazine cover subject John Dabiri is only 29, and he’s already racking up serious accolades, like this one from the White House, for his research on jellyfish. Dabiri isn’t a biologist — he’s an associate professor of aeronautics at Caltech, where he and his team study the movement of jellies for inspiration that has some surprising potential to change the way we live.

If you think the 650-million-year-old creatures only matter when they’ve got their stinging tentacles wrapped around your leg, Dabiri’s research would solidly suggest otherwise.

His analysis on the way creatures swim, pump and propel themselves underwater includes human-oriented applications in:

  • Underwater vehicles, particularly military uses
  • Wind energy and how it is harnessed
  • Mass mixing and movement of the oceans, connected to climate change
  • Human heart diagnostics, with potential for treating heart disease

Visit the Caltech Biological Propulsion Laboratory Web site to see some of the research tools that allow Dabiri and team to study jellyfish, both in the lab and out in the ocean, including a 40-meter tilting water channel (that generates waves) and some really fancy underwater camera and laser systems.

The animation below, courtesy of Dabiri, shows the movement and forces of water created by a moon jellyfish as it interacts with the ocean around it. (Photo above by Walt Mancini / Staff)

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