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Student Project: Neuroprosthetic Effectivity

Hello everyone. My name is Pranav Senthilkumar and I am a junior at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, CA (SFO Bay Area) For my project at the Alameda County Science fair last year, I designed a neuroprosthetic device using the original SpikerBox and the Human Neuroprosthetic kit.

What is a Neuroprosthetic, and how does it relate to my Project?

Many people are currently unable to live their lives to their full potential due to a disability. Neuroprosthetics is a relatively new field which is left mostly unexplored. My goal is to make an impact on the lives of patients who are currently suffering from disabilities. Since I had previously contacted Dr.Gage while assembling a Backyard Brains project, and he was very helpful, I sent Dr. Gage another email. When I checked my email the next morning, Dr. Timothy Marzullo, cofounder of BYB, had read my suggestion, and directed me to some existing BYB experiments which I could use as a base. (Particularly interesting was the Anuradha Rao Memorial Experiment). After Dr Marzullo helped me refine my idea, I was ready to start.

My plan was to create a successful complete neuroprosthetic for an earthworm. Many prosthetic limbs on the market are simply placeholders for the missing limb, and do not restore full functionality. While prosthetic limbs are definitely superior to having no limb at all, they certainly do not allow the patient to live a normal life. Neuroprosthetics, however, have the potential to add a new dimension to the patient’s mobility, allowing patients to live a normal life. The basic premise of these neuroprosthetic devices is that the brain controls the prosthetic limb, thus allowing the patient to perform tasks that a healthy person can perform. There are millions of research facilities taking use of this incredible opportunity to create the most advanced neuroprosthetic. Originally I planned to use a cricket and an earthworm to test my model as both of these creatures have nervous systems closely related to that of a human. In previous years, I have tested both the neural activity of crickets and the effect of drugs on the heart rate of a daphnia magna, so this year I wanted to use my previous projects as stepping stones to make something impactful. My original intended test subject was the cricket, however that did not provide the desired results (for reasons that I’ll expand on later.) After this unsuccessful attempt, I looked for other possible test species. Eventually when I tested the Angleworm, the neuroprosthetic provided excellent results, and so all future trials were performed on the Angleworm.

My Project:

After reconfiguring the original BYB Neuron SpikerBox with select parts of the Neuroprosthetics kit, I began by testing my new neuroprosthetic device on crickets, since crickets and cockroaches are usually the primary test species for BYB projects. However, after a few trials, it was clear that the cricket simply wasn’t a feasible test species. After realizing that the earthworm could be a potential test species, I began looking for pet stores in my area which carried earthworms. Unfortunately, none of the pet stores in my area carried earthworms, so I had to be content with using the angleworm as a substitute. Since earthworms are proven to have a nervous system quite similar to that of a human, I was very optimistic about this trial. The Angleworms were successful!

To perform the experiment, first place each angleworm in a container, and apply each of the solutions to the container. Check the heart rate immediately after the previous step has been completed (the heart rate can be tested by simply placing the earthworm under a high configuration microscope and counting the number of beats). Next, record the results, and apply each or the solutions to the angleworms. Now, amputate the hind portion of each of the angleworms. Finally, place both parts of the angleworm on the neuroprosthetic device, and if your device is working, you should see the hind portion of the angleworm mimic the movements of the front portion. There is, however, a time delay. This is a measure of the effectivity of the neuroprosthetic. A lower time delay means it is more effective.

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While building the neuroprosthetic device was the most time consuming part of my project, the ultimate goal was to test whether or not different *drugs had an impact on the effectivity of the neuroprosthetic. First of All, I wanted to test whether stimulants or depressants had any major effect on the effectivity of neuroprosthetics as opposed to the “control group” (treated with a normal distilled water solution). After running multiple trials, I came to the following conclusions:

-Stimulants such as Caffeine can have up to a 40% increase in the effectivity of the neuroprosthetics.
-Depressants Such as Acetaminophen Can have up to a 25-33% decrease in effectivity of neuroprosthetic.

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From this study, we can draw the conclusion that treating neuroprosthetic patients with stimulants like caffeine can improve the quality of their lives significantly.

Afterword: Choosing the right test species:

At first, I tested my new neuroprosthetic on a cricket. The results, however, were far from optimal. The neuroprosthetic simply would not function, and the prosthetic limb would be “dead,” without any sign of movement. At first, I thought that there may be something wrong with the device. I finally convinced myself to test other species on the device, and it turned out that the angleworm was the perfect model organism for my system. Furthermore, it was much easier to observe the heart rate of an angleworm. A possible reason for the success of the angleworm is that the nervous system is incredibly simple, while maintaining a remarkable similarity to that of a human.


In Search Of… Mind Control

In Search Of… Mind Control

Zachary Quinto explores the world of Mind Control Tech, including our own!

Several months ago, we were visited by a film crew and a notable celebrity to film Neuroscience experiments for a History Channel show. We’re excited to finally share our spot with you on “In Search Of,” a documentary style show hosted by Zachary Quinto, which investigates pop-sci phenomena, including… Mind Control! Check out our feature below.

We filmed several experiments with Zach, but unfortunately only our Human-Human-Interface was featured on the show, with the rest of that footage likely filed away and lost forever… Alas, thus is showbiz.

Behind the Scenes

Zach can’t hide from College Students

It’s no secret that College Students watch a lot of Netflix… so for Zachary Quinto, who has classic roles on the TV shows Heroes and American Horror Story, and who plays young Spock in the new Star Trek Movies, a college campus is the last place he should expect to fly under the radar.

Shortly after filming at our office, tweets and a local news article popped up, outing Zach for his attempt at using a fake name at the Starbucks right down the street from our office.

To his credit, he didn’t realize our downtown Ann Arbor office is so near the central campus of University of Michigan, and I don’t think anyone can blame a celebrity for wanting to blend in. See a bashful Quinto explain himself in these clips below from James Corden’s Late Show!

Regardless, it made for an interesting day as students explored campus trying to land celebrity selfies with himself and Steve Carrell, who was ALSO in Ann Arbor that day.
One last tabloidy fact, then onto your regularly scheduled neuroscience content: Zachary Quinto is not a fan of cockroaches, citing previous filming experiences with cockroaches that went awry… but he was excited about our approach to neuroscience education, invertebrate and human physiology, and of course human-machine-interfacing technology!

Human-Human-Interface

Celebrity Tested, Neuroscience Approved

Zachary Quinto joins the likes of celebrities, such as Bill Nye, the White Rabbit Project team, Kevin Hart, The Rock, Norman Reedus, and more who have experienced hands-on Neuroscience with the Human-Human-Interface. This is phenomena-anchored science at its best – check it out in our store below!


November Conferences

November is always a busy month at Backyard Brains, and this year was no exception! We expanded our conference tour to four conferences across two continents, from California, USA to Belgrade, Serbia.We did thousands of demos for new customers and promoted nearly 10 new products coming to BYB in 2019. Here are some tidbits about our domestic endeavors. 

SFN: Society for Neuroscience Conference

The Society for Neuroscience Conference is our annual Big Event. We’ve been going for years and always have BYB members from all over the world converge to give demos and sell our wares. We like to brag that we have the most interactive exhibit at SFN, and we think our attendees would agree!

As we continue our work to make neuroscience accessible, we are finding that there is a surprising lack of opportunity for many undergraduate students to do hands-on neuroscience labs. SFN is a great opportunity to meet with Professors and undergraduate instructors are looking for affordable ways for their undergrads to begin performing meaningful labs and research. For fractions of the cost of a single “research grade” rack, professors can outfit their labs with electrophysiology gear for every student! Not only that, but many undergrad and graduate students are similarly looking for tools which can empower their neuroscience outreach efforts, and are excited to discover us as they wander the exhibit hall at SFN.

Perhaps the quickest Demo to Classroom conversion ever – On the 4th, we demoed the Human-Human to the NW Noggin team. They bought one on the spot, and then on the 5th, they demoed it to hundreds of elementary schoolers! They came back on the 6th to ask for more electrodes. We eagerly stuffed their bags! Welcome to the Neurorevolution, NW Noggin!

NABT: National Association of Biology Teachers Conference

This year, we did a week-long conference binge! As soon as we put a wrap on SFN, we packed our bags, moved to a different San Diego hotel, and set up for our second weekend conference! We had the opportunity to meet up with Biology teachers from all across the country at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference (What a mouthful, we’re thankful for acronyms) or NABT.

Biology teachers are our people. There is a great deal of neuroscience in the General/Honors track biology curriculum, as students learn about the nervous systems of vertebrates and invertebrates. Biology teachers are also some of the most hands-on teachers we know. No other required classes have such an emphasis on hands-on learning, making BYB and Bio a natural fit.

CSTA: California Science Teachers Association Conference

One last break from winter in the midwest for Will — the California Science Teachers’ Association recently hosted their annual conference in sunny Pasadena. Will made the trip solo to introduce science educators from all across the great state of California to the exciting world of hands-on neuroscience. His message was Backyard Brain’s message: Neuroscience is the perfect blend of STEM and the Life Sciences, showing students the fascinating intersection of all the different disciplines they are studying.

We’re pushing onwards and finishing 2018 with a bang! We look forward to where our conference tour will take us next year. Have somewhere you think we should visit? Give us a shout on Twitter or email us at hello@backyardbrains.com!