Undergraduate research: Jenna Binstein

Greetings plankton enthusiasts, new and old! My name is Jenna Binstein and I recently graduated from undergrad at the University of Miami. I enjoyed my time there so much though, that I signed on for another year as a graduate student! Part of what made my undergraduate years so fulfilling and worthwhile was my work in the lab with Dr. Cowen, Jessica, and the rest of the ISIIS/plankton team. Before I go into more detail about my work there, let’s take a quick look at how I found my way into the marine sciences.

Jenna Binstein

It all started when I got my SCUBA certification as a freshman in high school. After my first open water dive I was hooked. I knew I had to learn all there was to know about marine science. At first, I thought I wanted to study the “big” stuff: dolphins, sharks, or turtles. I had seen jellyfish on SCUBA dives before, but I always considered them pests. I never thought as I applied and enrolled at UM that I would find such passion in studying some of the smallest organisms in the ocean, and learn just how important and collectively “big” they actually are.

Basically, my journey with plankton started when I met Jessica and Adam and began helping them with their respective dissertation research. I started learning to identify zooplankton, just as you all are learning to do via Plankton Portal! I started getting comfortable with the images from ISIIS, and eventually began to develop my own interest and senior thesis project with mentorship from Jessica. I decided to begin looking more closely at Appendicularians. Very little is known about these guys and their unusual mucous housing. So I spent a long time quantifying Appendiularians by size, classification, and whether or not they were inside a mucous housing when I saw them. The goal was to be able to identify an existing relationship between depth and whether or not an Appendicularian was found in its housing. I briefly looked at other factors as well, such as frontal dynamics, size, and classification and then saw if these related to an Appendicularian being in or out of its house. Although I completed my senior thesis, the work is not over; as there is still so much more I can pull from the data! Yet overall, I learned so much about Appendicularians and their role in the oceans, and I will definitely share as much of that as I can with all of you on some later blog posts relating specifically to the Appendicularian. In the meantime, I hope to continue learning all I can about Appendicularians and other gelatinous zooplankton during my time with the help of ISIIS, Plankton Portal, and UM.

Until my next post, happy jellyfishing everyone ≡≡D


Jenna Binstein, B.S.M.A.S., is a student in the Masters of Professional Science program at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RMSAS), University of Miami. You can reach her at jbinstein [at] rsmas.miami.edu.

Team introductions

We thought you’d like to know who are the scientists behind this project. So – here are a few introductions.

My name is Jessica Luo, and I am starting my fourth year as a Ph.D student at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. My research is on small gelatinous zooplankton (jellyfish and relatives) around fronts, and their vertical migration patterns. The research from this dataset forms part of my dissertation, so I’m really excited for Plankton Portal and the Zooniverse team. I recently moved from Miami to Newport, Oregon to be part of the new lab at Oregon State University. Here I am on a recent research cruise in the Mediterranean Sea:

Jessica on the Resaerch Vessel Tethys II, off the coast of France

Jessica on the R/V Tethys II this summer in the Northern Mediterranean

Adam Greer is a senior Ph.D student in our lab who’s about to defend soon. His research focuses on thin layers of zooplankton in coastal environments. He studies aggregation and the spatial relationships of organisms using ISIIS. He just got a very nice article published by the Journal of Plankton Research and made the cover! Congrats on all these achievements.

Adam scuba diving in the Caribbean

Adam scuba diving in Belize, 2011

Cedric Guigand, senior research associate in University of Miami and Charles Cousin, ocean engineer and CEO of Bellamare are the designers and developers of ISIIS. Their main contribution is to invent and built the crazy instruments that the scientists (i.e. Bob) come up in their wildest dreams! Not always easy… but always exiting! They also spent quite a bit at time at sea all over the world to help the group collect data and make sure the instruments are working well.

Adam (left) and Cedric (right) on a random friday afternoon in the lab: playing trombone

Adam (left) and Cedric (right) on a random friday afternoon in the lab: playing trombone.

Charles Cousin

Charles Cousin

Ben Grassian is a senior thesis student in our lab. He recently graduated from the University of Miami and his senior thesis was on the temporal and spatial distribution of ctenophores in San Diego. He spent an enormous amount of time identifying plankton images that helped us design the benchmark library we provided you to analyze the Plankton Portal data.


Dorothy Tang is a research technician working on the identification of organisms in ISIIS images. Her everyday life is surrounded by plankton–looking for them, identifying them, and charmed by them. In her words, “ISIIS opens my eyes on plankton (especially zooplankton). As I learned more about different kinds of zooplankton–jellyfish, siphonophore, appendicularians and their houses, ctenophores, larval fish, etc., I appreciate them more.”

Dorothy in the Lab

Dorothy in the Lab

And the head honcho – Bob Cowen is the mastermind behind the whole lab and the one who motivates, guides and keeps us all in line. He dreamed up the concept of ISIIS over a decade ago while trying to catch rare fish larvae with nets in the Caribbean. He is now the Director of Oregon State University‘s Hatfield Marine Science Center – and enjoying life on the west coast.

Bob on a recent cruise in the Mediterranean, examining a plankton net tow

Bob on a recent cruise in the Mediterranean, examining a plankton net tow

So that’s us! You can find Plankton Portal on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus, or visit our Lab Facebook Page. Tweet us or message us any questions you may have, or even just to say hello!