Columbia University in the City of New York

This Artist Investigates Aggression with Fish

Meet Graduate Student Claire Everett, Neurobiology and Behavior Program

Graduate student Claire Everett in the Bendesky lab wants to understand the origins of aggression in the brain. That’s why she’s studying Betta splendens, a gorgeous fish bred for centuries in Thailand to fight. Everett, a science illustrator and artist outside the lab, creates animations and uses 3D-printed plastic fish to spur a fish’s aggressive behaviors, from the flaring of its gills to the beating of its tail. She’s exploring which visual features — which changes in its opponent’s shape or movement, for instance — trigger these behaviors. Using new tools to investigate the brain of this unusual animal model, Everett hopes that her work will ultimately provide a deeper understanding of what happens in our own brains when clenched fists and furrowed brows escalate toward violence.


Photos by Thomas Barlow


Everett stands between rows of fish tanks.


A betta fish displays aggressive behavior toward a plastic, 3D-printed fish model.


A contour map reveals the shape and movements of a fish.


Everett and Research Assistant Alec Palmiotti check fish embryos under the microscope.


A slide holds cross-sections of a fish’s optic tectum, a brain region devoted to vision.


Everett watches a betta fish swim.


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