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The Biophysicist


Answers to mechanistic questions about biological phenomena require fluency in a variety of molecular biology techniques and physical concepts. Here, we present an interdisciplinary approach to introducing undergraduate students to an important problem in the areas of animal behavior and neuroscience—the neuronal control of animal behavior. In this lab module, students explore planarian behavior by quantitative image and data analysis with freely available software and low-cost resources. Planarians are ∼1–2-cm-long aquatic free-living flatworms famous for their regeneration abilities. They are inexpensive and easy to maintain, handle, and perturb, and their fairly large size allows for image acquisition with a webcam, which makes this lab module accessible and scalable. Our lab module integrates basic physical concepts such as center of mass, velocity and speed, periodic signals, and time series analysis in the context of a biological system. The module is designed to attract students with diverse disciplinary backgrounds. It challenges the students to form hypotheses about behavior and equips them with a basic but broadly applicable toolkit to achieve this quantitatively. We give a detailed description of the necessary resources and show how to implement the module. We also provide suggestions for advanced exercises and possible extensions. Finally, we provide student feedback from a pilot implementation.


image analysis, center of mass tracking, animal behavior, hands-on research, inquiry-based learning, undergraduate

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.


This work is freely available under a Creative Commons license.