Beth Brainerd

Brainerd Lab QSTORM Research

Beth Brainerd – Evolutionary Biologist

QSTORM nickname: The Muscle

Investigates the intricate subcellular functions of muscle cells. What makes them contract? What makes them release?

Brief Bio and QSTORM role

Beth is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University in Providence, RI.

She investigates how muscle design and activity has evolved – in vertebrate animals – to solve inescapable trade-offs between force and speed. Her investigations span whole organism bio-mechanics to intracellular processes, from zebrafish to humans.


PLAY VIDEO: Beth’s lab produced this x-ray video of a walking lizard to study its “moving morphology.”

Beth’s QSTORM role is to apply the experimental QSTORM imaging technique to study activity inside the muscle cells of zebrafish embryos. She will attach targeting molecules to Jessica’s quantum dots and microinject them into embryonic muscle cells, where they will tether themselves to myofibril filaments and illuminate them for imaging. Like Ge Yang, Beth will then be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the QSTORM imaging technique compared to other super-imaging techniques commonly used in biological research.

Find out more about imaging muscle motion…

“Superheroes”: An animation in 3-D. 50 sec. See how New England Institute of Art students interpreted the QSTORM mission…

Beach Bum Beginnings

As a child, Elizabeth Brainerd spent summers hip-deep in Nantucket Sound, trolling for fish with a 12-foot seine or combing the shores of East Falmouth for snails or hermit crabs. As an adult, the natural world continues to beguile her.

Once, out in the eelgrass on Cape Cod, Brainerd caught a pufferfish. She’s been intrigued ever since. Her dissertation, in fact, was on the biomechanics of puffer inflation. It’s a defense mechanism which renders puffers too big – or makes them appear too scary – to be swallowed by predators. Some of Brainerd’s research footage was used to create the character of Bloat, the friendly puffer in the Academy Award-winning animated film “Finding Nemo”.

— excerpted from a
Brown University profile
by Wendy Lawton.

Read more of this profile…


Inside Scoop

Editor: In what ways do you feel that you don’t fit the stereotype of a scientist?

Beth: I think part of becoming a scientist is to make yourself into your own image of what a scientist is – so I suppose I fit the stereotype in my mind fairly well. But I think I am less competitive than the stereotype for a scientist. I have no desire to be part of any race to “scoop” someone. There are more than enough interesting questions and projects to go around!

Read more of this Q&A with Beth on her life in science…