John Dabiri thought, while training as an engineer, he would be studying machines like airplanes, and not creatures with no bones that are largely made of water. But jellyfish, the Stanford scientist came to learn, embody billions of years of design that has brought them through extinctions and recoveries, and illustrates some remarkably efficient ways of moving through the surrounding environment. In one example, jellyfish flex their bodies to manipulate zone of high and low pressure around them, which lets them move with a very low expenditure of energy. In a video interview with Science Netlinks, an education service from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dabiri says that "we look at biological systems from the perspective of an engineer, to see them as mechanisms and devices, and to learn from those animals new design strategies for new technologies." So Dabiri has actually built miniature submarines that have a typical submarine look, but move water currents around them in ways that look strikingly like what jellyfish do.
The vortices and eddies from the jellies have inspired Dabiri to look at how such features affect blood flow through the heart. The blood forms vortex rings that actually make a sound, and Dabiri hopes that the noise will eventually help physicians diagnose heart trouble."We've been working on jellyfish for 10 years now," Dabiri says, "and we're still just scratching the surface of all they have to teach us."