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Detecting Electric Fish

Hi! I’m Shreya and I just graduated from the Dwarkadas J. Sanghvi College of Engineering affiliated to the University of Mumbai in Electronics Engineering. During the last two years of my undergraduate study, I spent most of my vacations, free time and some weekends working as a research intern at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay where I completed several computer programming and embedded electronics projects. My undergraduate capstone project had me working with Artificial Neural Networks for ECG beat classification. This project was also completed at and funded by IIT Bombay.

Me on a train in India (during our final year class trip to Rishikesh)

Recently I have been really interested in neuroscience and EEGs, which is how I discovered Backyard Brains. I had been following their blog and Facebook posts for a few months, and that’s how I found out about this internship! I joined Backyard Brains on 12th June (got delayed because of final exams!) and I will be working on the Electric Fish project here for six months. This is my first time in the USA and so far, it’s been great! I’ve been enjoying the climate here – it’s a good change from the intense summer heat in Mumbai. I also love how Ann Arbor has so many different flower species!

Me and some beautiful flowers in Ann Arbor

Electric fish are a really interesting type of animal that can generate and detect electric fields around them to either stun prey or to communicate with other electric fish, detect objects and navigate. However, finding them and tracking them can be difficult, and many species have yet to be discovered! This project is aimed at building a device which can be deployed into the freshwater rivers of South America to detect and record the Electric Organ Discharges (EOD) of weakly electric fish as they swim past it. Each species has a unique EOD, which can be either wave-type or pulse-type. So, based on the nature of the recorded EOD, the species of the fish can be estimated and it can also be used to study the behaviour of the fish. This project is based on the research that Dr. Eric Fortune of the New Jersey Institute of Technology conducted in Ecuador. I will be using the Elephant Nose fish to test the device while prototyping.

Elephant Nose fish (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Elephant Nose fish produces EODs which look like spikes when recorded using electrodes. So far, I have been able to amplify and see these spikes on an oscilloscope. I will be improving the filter and amplifier, using an Arduino to detect spikes in the recorded data, and saving this information along with time stamps on an SD card. Some of the challenges I will be facing while designing this are that the device needs to be waterproof and it should have power saving capabilities since it might have to run on batteries or solar energy for months at a time to be able to detect any electric fish.

Below are some of the spikes I recorded from the Elephant Nose fish as seen on an oscilloscope (along with 60 Hz noise).

I’m really enjoying working on this project here, at Backyard Brains, and I look forward to finishing this project!

BYB World Neuro Tour Part III – from Patagonia up north the Panamericana

It’s ET again with some updates to the BYB World Neuro Tour. Arriving in Rio de Janeiro, my friend Geo and I travelled down the Atlantic coast to spread the word of Neuroscience (for details see: or here). In Montevideo we decided to buy a VW Kombi, named her ‘Brunhilde’, and wanted to find our way quickly to Patagonia. Unfortunately, the long buying process and a friend’s visit from Germany forced us to separate in Montevideo. Waiting for ‘Brunhilde’ I used the time to visited a team of doctors at the Hospital de Clinicas where we were able to detect uterine contractions with the EMG Spiker shield in a pregnant woman.Moreover, I was invited to set up a stand at the Brain Week of Montevideo where kids enthusiastically used the BYB equipment. Special thanks to Sofia Letaief, Alejandra Mondino, and Prof. Jose Diaz.

Once allowed to leave Uruguay we arrived quickly at the Peninsula Valdes, where Brunhilde decided to take off one of her wheels. Stuck in the middle of nowhere I was adopted by the local park rangers as heavy rains blocked the routes. After many days in the Peninsula without signal we were able to repair the Kombi and a cascade of happy coincidences directed me to Mirta Anton. Together we organized the first of three ‘conferencias’ in Trelew. Thanks to her help the ‘conferencia’ was advertised and hosted by the local newspaper El Chubut (see here). Additionally, she made it possible that the NeuroTour will appear in a TV documentary of the Channel 12 called ‘Nueva Mirada’ in July. After this first stop in Patagonia we headed in direction Cordillera with two more ‘conferencias’ in Esquel and El Bolson. Special thanks to Andres Barcena and Alumine Honik who organized these events!

The three Patagonian conferencias with their spiritual minded attendants highlighted interesting aspects and applications of the BYB equipment. First, the necessity and power of the intention revealed by the Human-Human-Interface, where the controller has to perform the action willingly. Second, the possibility to control your heart rate in the ECG experiment via respiratory exercises. Third, the built-in alpha-wave amplitude to sound conversion of the EEG experiment can be used to increase your meditation performance. This is also called biofeedback therapy and is often used to help patients with neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

Finally, I would like to thank all Patagonians that supported and helped me during my stay in that incredibly beautiful region. Now, I’m heading up north along the Panamericana to visit BYB co-founder Tim in Santiago.

Tech Trek Success!

This past Friday, Backyard Brains held an Open House as a part of this year’s Ann Arbor Tech Trek! Dozens of local tech companies had their doors open to the public that evening and we, like our friends around town, had people streaming in from open to close!

Greg Gage on the Tech Talk Stage. Photo Credit Vanya P.

The day began with “Tech Talks” at the Michigan Theater, where our very own Dr. Greg Gage gave the Backyard Brains talk. Stimulating both thought and muscle, Greg gave an intro to neuroscience lesson and demonstrated principles of electrophysiology with the Human to Human Interface. He then explained the importance of neuroscience education and Backyard Brains’ mission, stating that “Backyard Brains exists because people deserve an opportunity to learn about neuroscience, not just in a book, but by performing real experiments.”

The Tech Talks were a hit, and very shortly after, the open houses began. For four hours straight we were packed with people interested in learning about Backyard Brains and neuroscience! We demonstrated the SpikerBox, the Human to Human Interface, the Muscle SpikerBox, and even the PlantShield! It was a day of education, outreach, and new connections.

There were parents with their children who were excited to learn, area educators and physicians who were intrigued by the potential of our kits, and otherwise total strangers to neuroscience who walked away with a new appreciation for the field!

We met a few longtime fans and hopefully made many new ones!