Technicians make ... research happen

The team at the Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, explain why the talents of their technician, Adam, have been vital to their research on how Praying Mantises see the world in 3D.

Attention to detail

Praying mantids can’t survive outside in the UK, so getting conditions just right for them can be tricky. Adam has innovated to ensure that the insects are housed comfortably and consistently provided with the right conditions for them to thrive – including with regards to temperature, space, humidity and food.

Problem-solving

Adam has also had to manage several different species, including the robust African lined mantis, commonly kept as a pet by insect enthusiasts, and more unusual, larger mantids, such as Hierodula and Rhombodera species, which are better for our neurophysiological work. This has meant becoming familiar with the different characters of the various species. For example, Adam discovered that some species are more easily scared than others, and that one species makes a huge mess when feeding while others are quite tidy.  

Critical Thinking

One of Adam’s most important contributions has been figuring out how to get a breeding program going for our mantises. His success there has allowed us to have easy access to the insects whenever experiments required them. Since our experiments involve vision, it is also tremendously helpful that his care has ensured that the insects had undamaged eyes!

Communicating Complex Ideas

Adam’s careful updating of our mantis spreadsheet means that we always know how many adult mantids we have available of each species, and how many nymphs will be reaching adulthood soon. This enables us to plan our experimental schedule and ensure that we have enough mantids for all the students and other researchers running experiments at any given time.

Instructing Others 

Adam is also responsible for training new lab members in correct and safe use of the facilities, e.g. turning up the extractor fan when working in the insect room so as to minimise exposure to potentially allergenic locust debris.

Adam makes it happen

Over the past six years, we have learnt many exciting new things about mantis vision – for example, that their 3D vision works by looking at how visual images change over time, instead of comparing the details of left and right images like human vision. We’ve found the first ever invertebrate neurons involved in 3D vision, mapping their ramifications in the brain and characterising their electrical response. Most recently, we’ve looked at what camouflage patterns can help smaller insects avoid attracting the attention of our mantis predators. All this progress has depended on Adam’s expert, reliable and unfailingly cheerful work.

To discover more about the skills needed to be a technician, see our prospectus

To learn more about Adam, read his interview, here

#techniciansmakeithappen

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