The Triumph of Prep’s Jelly Lab


Photo Courtesy of Paul Moore

Squirreled away in the bottom floor of the Bachmann Collaboration Building, animals with alien features like tentacles and a soft squishy body lie suspended, swirling in the glass trappings of a tank. These organisms are jellyfish. Starting just before the worldwide pandemic arrived at Prep, a group of Prep students headed by both Dr. Herman and Ms. Kaufman began taking care of some polyps donated by a lab at Caltech. Fast forward several years and thousands of jellyfish later, the Prep Jelly Lab is open for curious students whether they prefer to watch these fascinating organisms in their different stages of life or try their hand at working in the lab. This opportunity not only presents a unique opportunity to experience real scientific research, fully planned and conducted by enthusiastic students, but it also teaches students a number of great life lessons.

Since the lab’s inauguration, a select group of Prep’s aspiring scientists have been hard at work maintaining the hundreds of polyps, ephyra (immature medusa), and fully grown medusa jellyfish. Amidst the plastic cones and bubblers, the students learn to feed the jellyfish with brine shrimp, tiny fairy shrimp hatched and maintained at the lab as well. Keeping the jellyfish in a stable environment requires more than just feeding and cleaning the containers, as the same water circulating all day presents a number of challenges. Due to water evaporation, the water inside the tanks rises in salinity. If the water is too salty, the jellyfish can quickly die. Similarly, if the water’s pH or ammonia levels are too high, it can put the jellyfish in serious danger. Therefore, students must learn to diligently monitor these water levels and make changes when necessary.

Time spent in the Jelly Lab is not “all work and no play.” Experienced members of the Jelly Lab have been afforded the chance to conduct experiments on the jellyfish. For the past three years, Prep students have submitted experiments to the Los Angeles County Science Fair and received several awards. Notably, William Boyd ‘24 and Matthew Wang ‘23 won first and third respectively in Animal Biology. For Wang, the Jelly Lab has always been a special place at Prep for him. When asked why, he said, “When I first started at Prep, I didn’t have very many opportunities to explore the world of research. When Dr. Herman told me I could conduct research on living organisms, I jumped at the opportunity and have had such an amazing experience since.” 

With the very recent establishment of a more formal space for the Jelly Lab, organizing the many individuals eager to help out has been difficult. With the incredible efforts of both Dr. Herman and Ms. Kaufman, the two Jelly Lab mentors, the lab has become a great space for students to learn from and collaborate with each other on their projects. This past semester has only seen more Jelly Lab interest, with now over twenty Prep students helping maintain and research the jellies. Who knows what the future may hold for the jellyfish as the team has finally reached the end of the jellyfish life cycle; the large medusas are reaching sexual maturity and soon may give birth to a new generation of polyps. Thanks to the efforts of all the members and mentors, the future of the jellyfish and their team looks very bright indeed.