Midnight on Friday, May 15th, 2020, Tamara Stawicki, received an iMonnit alert that temperatures surpassed 80°F in her research lab. The Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, sprang into action because her lab is packed to the gills with zebrafish, and quite possibly the next advancement in understanding hearing health.

A failing air-conditioning unit triggered the alert. Beyond endangering shoals of the striped fish, spiking temperatures may have stymied Professor Stawicki’s work. She’s investigating how certain medications and environmental toxins kill the hair cells in humans’ ears that are pivotal to hearing and balance. And zebrafish are guiding the way.

Really.

zebra fish monitoring

Pictured is the fish facility in Professor Stawicki’s research lab that houses zebrafish. A large recirculating system and complex light system ensure fish health; Monnit Wireless Temperature, Water Detection, and Light Detection Sensors will alert the professor if a failure endangers her fish.

At first blush, you might think these zebra-striped members of the minnow family have virtually nothing in common with humans. And, you’d be wrong.

The National Institutes of Health reports that nearly 70% of human genes exist in zebrafish; these fish also have a basic nervous system that mirrors our own. This surprising similarity makes them prized among researchers like Professor Stawicki, who are investigating a wide array of human diseases ranging from melanoma to hearing loss caused by damaged cells.

“I actually study this [hair cell death] in zebrafish as they have hair cells on the surface of their bodies that are very similar to those in our ears,” Professor Stawicki says. “Due to the small size of zebrafish larvae, I can put a fish on a microscope and watch what is happening to these cells in real-time in response to a drug or toxin—something that would be impossible to do in the mammalian hair cells buried deep within the ear.”

Sensors Safeguard Striped Swimmers
Within Professor Stawicki’s fish facility are tanks, fish incubators, and a sizeable recirculating water system that promotes fish health. Native to the Indian subcontinent, zebrafish thrive within specific temperatures and a finely tuned 14 light/10 dark 24-hour cycle. Thus, the lab relies on wireless temperature, water detect, and light detection sensors from Monnit. In addition to racks of fish tanks, the facility has several refrigerators and freezers that store sensitive reagents and fish food.

wireless temperature sensor in use

Reagents are part of Professor Stawicki’s hearing loss research. A sensor alerts her if storage temps rise.

“This [sensor network] allows me to keep the fish happy and healthy by addressing any problems quickly,” Professor Stawicki explains. “They also provide a warning if my incubator, fridge, or freezers have stopped working and are no longer maintaining the proper temperature.”

Professor Stawicki discovered Monnit Wireless Sensors and their role in research and clinical trials through a “New PI” (principal investigator) Slack channel.

“I’m a member [of the Slack group], and everyone there raves about Monnit,” Professor Stawicki concludes. “I had never heard about them prior to that, but they provide a huge range of sensor capabilities at an affordable price, and the setup was very easy.”

Dive deeper into Professor Stawicki’s research on the cellular processes behind hair cell development and death by visiting her Lafayette faculty page.

iMonnit interface

An alert from a Monnit Wireless Temperature Sensors alerted Professor Stawicki of a temperature spike that could have endangered her research and zebrafish. The culprit: an ailing A/C unit.

“My @monnitsensors system earns its keep once again. Now the fun part of trying to get the problem fixed.” — @StawickiLab, May 16, 2020