I’m literally shooting fish in a barrel

Anna Greenwood

Fred Hutch researcher Anna Greenwood next to her fish school tank.

I recently had to make a picture to illustrate the idea of how scientific researchers sometimes have to get all “MacGyver” and make the tools they need to do their research. Fred Hutch’s Anna Greenwood is a good example. She studies which genes control fish schooling behavior. To do that Anna has to figure out which individual fish within a population are more or less likely to exhibit fish school behavior. Only then can she dive deep into the genetic makeup of those individual fish.

Think about that for a minute. How would you identify the likeliness of a single fish to swim or not swim with other fish? Now assume you don’t have a lot of money to do this because you also have to buy lab equipment and pay research assistants. Money is very tight at a cancer research center.

Anna figured out an inexpensive, practical way to do what she needed. She located an old bicycle wheel, a small electric motor, a few pieces of wire, a plastic drum and some fake fish. She put it all together, filled the drum with water, and began placing individual fish in the water to see if they’d follow her fake fish around the tank. It totally worked, and I got the job of illustrating it for a story.

I took several photos of Anna, the tank and the fake fish, but nothing really worked. That’s when the idea occurred to me that what this needs is motion. So, I shot a few seconds of video of Anna next to her contraption, and then I turned that into a cinemagraph. I like our resulting image, and I think it totally illustrates Anna’s ingenuity.

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