A red and white triangle with a large exclamation mark hangs on the heavy safety door to the MRT laboratory on the ground floor of the Alfred Wegener Institute, warning against strong magnetic fields and danger! A second sign warns that metallic objects near the magnets make for dangerous projectiles. People with pacemakers and other metallic implants may not even enter the laboratory – all others must wait until someone behind the closed door hears the knocking.
Matthias Schmidt opens the door to the large laboratory room only a little later. In his white coat, the young biologist looks like an X-ray assistant. A glance at the apparatus and equipment in the background to which a seeming chaos of cables, pipes and houses are attached, are reminiscent of an intensive care unit. And yet Matthias Schmidt has never examined a patient – his test objects are fish. For his doctorate, he is researching into how warming and acidification of the oceans impact Arctic and Antarctic fish species.
His special interest is focused on the fish brain. Australian scientists determined three years ago that young clown fish did not flee in acidic water but swam straight towards their enemy. In subsequent tests, where the water was acidified, the juvenile fish were careless along their home reef, removed themselves further from their hideaways, saw and heard less well and within a few days over 70 per cent of the animals had been eaten. Matthias Schmidt now wishes to investigate whether fish in the polar regions react in a similar manner to ocean acidification with the assistance of NMR which is known as an MRT in hospitals.