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Jelly Talks spread a little learning

There's more than one way to make a jelly, and graduate student Dennis Evangelista knows most of them.

The proper method depends on what kind of jelly you want to create, Evangelista told about a dozen of his fellow students in MIT's joint program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, at one of the informal weekly talks the students run during the summer.

The talks give students a chance to develop their public speaking skills in a casual environment. The goal is "to let people practice their talks, and talk about something you couldn't do at the Geochemical Society, to get up and have a good time," says Sharon Hoffmann, a graduate student in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), who helps organize the sessions.

Inspired by the "Peanut Butter Club" talks that are held at Woods Hole for senior citizens, the students dubbed their summer sessions "Jelly Talks."

Evangelista, a mechanical engineering student who studies the motion of jellyfish, made the most of the play on words during his talk last week. He started his presentation with a recipe for apricot jam, then briefly discussed the history of jelly and its culinary cousin, Jell-O, before getting down to the "serious" part of his talk on jellyfish.

If you want to create the kind of jelly that lives in the ocean, you need a couple of willing parents, he said. "You get a boy jellyfish and a girl jellyfish together and they meet, they enjoy meeting, and you get a bunch of ciliated larvae," which eventually grow into adult jellies, Evangelista explained.

As an engineer, Evangelista says he's interested in what produces the different types of motion seen in jellyfish. "They have so many different shapes and patterns of motion, and they fit with how these things live," he said.

To assist his research, Evangelista has built several robotic jellyfish models, which students passed around during his talk, including one that incorporates part of a cereal box into the design.

The summer Jelly Talks alternate between Cambridge and Woods Hole. At last week's session, the final one of the year, students munched on pizza in a Building 3 conference room as they listened to Evangelista's talk and another presentation by EAPS graduate student Emily Van Ark.

Van Ark decided to forgo her research topic completely and talk about her two recent trips to Honduras. She visited the country in March to help set up an automated flood warning system and went again in August on her honeymoon. Her presentation included photos of iguanas, plus tips on where to stay and scuba dive in Honduras.

Other topics from this summer's Jelly Talks included how to tie useful knots, how to teach science to third-graders, and a presentation of a year spent in Jamaica with the Peace Corps.

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