Funded! This project was successfully funded on January 11, 2012.


We created open-source tools to record neurons. Now we wish to publish experiments that help teachers and amateurs use our kits.


Backyard Brains is a small DIY company with the goal of spreading an interest in neuroscience to the public.  The brain is poorly understood by most everyone... and neuroscience is typically not taught until late undergrad or graduate school.  We feel that exposing people to how the brain works at an earlier age will help get kids thinking about a career in neuroscience.  And we could definitely use the help!  1 out of 5 people will suffer from a neurological disease where there is not a known cure!   

Why Write a Paper?

We have developed low-costs tools to investigate the brain, but teachers have told us they need help when preparing lesson plans and lectures.  We decided it would be a good idea to publish a paper that teachers and amateurs could use to understand and perform experiments.  We wrote a paper that outlines four neuroscience experiments for publication in the journal PLoS ONE.  The paper includes a teachers guide with background information on the experiments, plus student handouts for use in class.  Each experiment has it's own separate hand-out, so educators can choose which section they wish to cover.  We have also included an engineering section which details how we designed the SpikerBox, and steps for building one yourself.


Although people are generally interested in how their brain functions, neuroscience education to the public is hampered by a lack of low cost and engaging teaching materials. To address this, we developed an open-source tool, the SpikerBox, which is appropriate for use in middle/high school educational programs and by amateurs. This device can be used in easy experiments in which students insert sewing pins into the leg of a cockroach, or other invertebrate, to amplify and listen to the electrical activity of neurons. With the cockroach leg preparation, students can hear and see (using a smartphone oscilloscope app we have developed) the dramatic changes in activity that occur when the mechanosensitive barbs are touched. Students can also experiment with other manipulations such as temperature, drugs, and microstimulation that affect the neural activity. We include teaching guides and other resources in the supplemental materials. These hands-on lessons with the SpikerBox have proven to be effective in teaching basic neuroscience.

The Experiments 

Experiment I: How do nerves carry information about touch? Students learn the concept of “rate-coding” by listening to the changes in neural discharge in response to touch using the cockroach leg preparation. Location-dependent (or “somatotopic”) responses can be illuminated by touching several areas along the leg.

Experiment II: How do neurons generate electricity?  By selectively heating and cooling the cockroach leg, students can indirectly observe the properties of ion channels and their influence on spikes.

Experiment III: How does your brain tell your muscles to move? By using the analog output of a portable MP3 device or laptop, students can measure the effect of frequency and amplitude on the initiation of movements in the cockroach leg.  The use of electricity to create neural or muscle activity is called “microstimulation”.

Experiment IV: How do drugs affect neurons? The effects of “neuroactive” agents on the central nervous system can be studied to explain the function of synapses and neurotransmitters.  Two types of neurotransmitter agents, chemicals involved in neuron-to-neuron communication, are injected into the CNS of a cricket.  Students can analyze the behavioural and neural recording results to determine the effects of each.

About the Publication Process

Most journals charge subscribers to read their articles.  We wanted our articles to be available to everyone, so we decided to publish in an open-access journal: PLoS ONE. The idea behind open-access is that the authors pay up front to publish, so the readers can get access to the articles for free.

We are asking for help with the $1,350 required to get our paper published in PLoS ONE (their standard rate for non-institutional authors).  If you help us defray the publication costs, you will be added to the acknowledgment section of our paper.  

You can get involved in the scientific publication process! You can help teachers access teaching materials for free.  


  • Yes, PLoS One kindly offers waivers if authors do not have money to pay the publishing fee. From what we hear, they have never declined a request to waive the fee for anyone. But we are doing this KickStarter for 2 reasons.

    1) We believe strongly in the Open-Access, and want to support PLoS in their efforts. We do not want them to have to cover our costs, as PLoS has to keep lights on too. We'd like to encourage their business model.

    2) We'd like to set a precedent where the community, if they are interested in a project, can help fund a project's dissemination and publication. Our teacher colleagues have asked about this option, as the number of open access journals is still pretty limited.

    So consider this an experiment in crowd-sourcing projects for educators to publish in open-access journals!

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  • We decided it made for a cleaner narrative to request the exact amount of $1350 on the PLoS One invoice (see update). We've raised $1426 now, which will help offset the cuts Kickstarter and Amazon will take. We also have "skin in the game" too and can add whatever more is needed. So, at this point, we don't need any more backers. Thanks so much though. To the NeuroRevolution!

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  • Yes! It was a long struggle. We were assigned manuscript #PONE-D-11-11302 back on June 27, 2011 when we first submitted it. Three revisions and six months later, we are happy to report the reviewers and editors have signed off on it! The journal is awaiting final proofs. We will add the KickStarter backers to our acknowledgement and submit our final version on Jan 12.

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    You will be acknowledged in the PLoS One Paper for your contribution and will receive a copy of the paper, plus we will send you a signed SpikerBox kit with your name engraved on it!

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