How does evolution proceed from common starting points and go on to generate the amazing display of biodiversity we see today? The evolutionary origins of novel and complex forms has puzzled biologists since before Darwin’s time and persists as one of the central questions in evolutionary biology. Research in my lab at UNH sheds light on this question by using the origins and evolution of the animal sensory systems as a model. Our approach integrates genomic, wet lab and behavioral data using phylogenetic methods. We are most interested in the sensory systems of Cnidaria, which are the evolutionary sister to bilaterians, and in those of other taxa that occupy key positions in the animal tree of life.