Backyard Brains: Neuroscience for Everyone!
Neuroscience is hard and expensive. Why is that? We are developing low-cost tools for students to record the brains of insects.
When a child peers through a telescope, they instantly gain a basic understanding of astronomy and they also begin to understand his/her place in the cosmos. We would like young people to also understand the cosmos inside us as well: to understand the basic principles of what makes our brain unique.
Our goal is to develop a production version of the 'SpikerBox', an inexpensive, easy to use, bioamplifier for neuroscience experiments. It will be used by students in junior highs, high schools, and undergrad universities. We intend to make the teaching tools user-friendly enough that students of all ages can understand how to experiment with the nervous system of insects.
The SpikerBox (pictured above) allows users to conduct experiments by recording and hearing the electrical discharges (or “spikes”) from the sensory nerve of a cockroach leg. But don't worry... Cockroach legs will grow back! We also have a free iPhone application that allows students to see and record the spikes as well (screen shot below... those are real spikes!).
We developed a booklet of experiments that kids can do either at home or with their teachers in school. Some of the experiments are:
- Effects of Drugs on the Nervous System – various pesticides (and even cigarettes shaken in a bottle of Gatorade) can be applied to the insects to show the change in electrical activity in response to drug agents
- Effects of Temperature on the Nervous System – changing the temperature of the insects affects the rate of their Neural Discharge
- Effects of Stimulus Intensity on Sensory Neurons– By controlling the strength of air puffs on leg barbs, the gradual increase in electrical activity can be observed. (see below)
- Mapping leg barbs to neural activity – Our electrodes only record from a subset of neurons in the leg; students can carefully manipulate each barb on the insect leg to see what barbs 'map' to the neurons they are recording 5-Rhythmic discharge of walking behavior – Using fine wires, students can implant the legs of a walking stick insect, and observe of the rhythmic discharge motor neurons, leading to understanding of basic principles of motor control.
- Effect of Electrical Stimulation on muscle tissue - by applying a small voltage, the electrical current causes motor neurons to fire. This can easily be seen by connecting an iPod or other sound device to the cockroach leg. The muscles will twitch in rhythm to the music. (See updates for a cool video)
In summary, our intent is for students of all ages to be able to say and understand: "The world consists of energy: light, sound, pressure, or heat. The nervous system detects changes in this energy and transforms this into electrical impulses. The brain interprets these electrical impulses and transforms them into movements."
Our Request for Funding
We currently make the enclosures for our boxes by hand. While wood looks esthetically pleasing, it takes a lot of time and labor to manufacture. Our goal is to make our SpikerBoxes as cheap as possible. We are raising money to build a CNC acrylic or plastic based enclosure. Our goal in the enclosure is to make it low cost, easy to get access to the insides (we want kids to open it!) and ideally be transparent so that the electronics become a part of the experience.
Your investment will be spent to design and build several acrylic-based prototypes. This will allow us to bring these prototypes into high school classrooms and get direct feedback from the students and their teachers. The winning prototype will become our new enclosure. All because of you. Let the NeuroRevolution begin!
- (60 days)