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BRAINDING Project Commences with First Working Prototype

Longtime Backyard Brains fans may recognize Pablo Guerra in the majority of our human interface videos. When not acting for Backyard Brains, Pablo Works as Electronic Music Artist, specifically, modifying electronic music instruments in a discipline called “Circuit Bending.”

Circuit bending or also called “toy hacking” is the art of corrupting a musical toy from your childhood, by opening it up and connecting with a “jumper” wire any two circuit locations sending current from one part of the circuit into another, until you find that the toy emits a strange sound.  Finding new sounds is like a treasure hunt, and  it doesn’t need any prior experience with electronics: you make different paths with the wire until you find one that changes the music. Once you find a path that makes a weird noise,  you can connect it to a potentiometer that is placed to make more or less electricity flow, causing the noises to change even more.

While Previous Art Projects have existed converted EEG to Music (and Backyard Brains has this feature as well), Pablo was interested in making a direct interface between his musical instruments and the musical toys using the strength of the EEG alpha wave power to control a 100k digital potentiometer.

We are using a MCP41100 100 kOhm digital potentiometer with the Heart and Brain SpikerShield (our EEG device), that goes on top of an Arduino. 

The pin out is

1- Arduino Digital Out 10

2- Arduino Digital Out 13

3- Arduino Digital Out 11

4,5 – Ground

6-Signal Out

7,8 – +5V on the Arduino

See the video of our first working prototype in action!

Thanks especially goes to BYB Developer Stanislav Mircic for developing the serial interface code that enables communication between our Heart and Brain SpikerShield, Spike Recorder, and the MCP41100 digital potentiometer

Specifically, Pablo modified his machine DjckeO to read in input from our Heart and Brain SpikerShield


When Pablo Closes his eyes, alpha power increases, which causes the digital potentiometer to drop from 95 kiloohms to 70 kiloohms. This then modulates a sound generation circuit in Pablo’s Musical Instrument

If you would like to build this, you must

  1. Remove LEDs 3,4, and 6 from the Heart and Brain SpikerShield (two yellow LEDs, and last red LED. This is because we are using those pins now to talk to the Digital Potentiometer.
  2. Upload this new code to your Arduino that allows the SpikeRecorder software to talk to the Digital Potential
  3.  Run our new SpikeRecorder Software Prototype

This is an active research project, so let us know if you have any questions or ideas.

The NeuroRevolution continues in Bangalore, India.

Neuroscience is making its way across the globe! Recently, The Harvard South Asia Institute selected 25 young students of technology to participate in a two-week long workshop, introducing them to the excitement and interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience and engineering in Bangalore, India. Course managers included our longtime Harvard colleagues and scientists Venkatesh Murthy and Laura Magnotti , and during two weeks the students learned about brain function from ion channels on up to cognitive networks. As one part of the hands-on component of the workshop, the students did experiments using our gear! They used the Neuron SpikerBox kits to record action potentials from cricket and grasshopper legs (which the students caught themselves on campus). They also experimented with humans, recording EMG during arm wrestling contests, using the Muscle SpikerBox.



















The Harvard South Asia Institute workshop seeks to introduce Indian students to the excitement of brain science, and this is the second version of the workshop; We are happy that the NeuroRevolution is expanding and creating a wider community all over the world. The workshop had graduate and undergraduate students, who usually do not sit for classes together, learning and helping do experiments on the electrical activity of neurons. For many, it was the first time doing electrophysiology!

Read the full article that was featured in The Times of India here to find out more about this workshop. Many more shall come!

Buenos Aires – The Latest Stop on The BYB World NeuroTour

Hey hey! It’s Etienne Serbe again, with an update on BYB World NeuroTour! You’ve seen us in Germany, Portugal, and Brazil (see here and here). Now we’ve move onto Sao Paolo, Florianopolis, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires. We work with Universities on how to improve common neuroscience knowledge. We also spread the word outside of academia. In this case, the backyard (true to the Backyard Brains style) of a hostel in Sao Paulo and a home in Montevideo!

Scientists tend to drift into their ‘Science Bubble’. They miss chances to share their work with peers and the unaware but deserving populace. Yet, if you devise a way to make it easy for them to understand and relate with empathy, their interest will follow.

‘Small Talk’ at random places can often turn into spontaneous EMG demonstrations

We experience a large general interest in our audience about neuroscience, but spreading engagement is not always an easy task, as neuroscience is a complicated subject which is perceived as very difficult to understand. The lack of education combined with popular myths (such as “we only use 20% of our brain”) are some of the many challenges we face as neuroscience educators. With these misconceptions, people tend to conclude neuroscience as daunting and thus unapproachable. To tackle this, we at Backyard Brains and the BYB World NeuroTour have used engaging techniques with demos, illustrations, and an open environment to discuss neuroscience.

Here, I want to highlight two occasions on the NeuroTour where we most recently brought neuroscience to the public. The first was a spontaneous ‘Arte meets Science’ session in the backyard of a hostel in Sao Paolo. We taught neuroscientific principles to the hostel crowd, most of whom had little neuroscience education. In the end, everyone understood how neural potential changes evoke, display, and send messages!

The second was an event called ‘Action Potentials Served for Dessert’ in Montevideo. After having dinner with our lovely hosts, we gathered once again to try to understand action potentials. We demonstrated the human-human interface and tried to find alternative movements that could be evoked by it, rather than the standard wrist movement. We also looked at potential use of a EEG headband that detects blinking (see the tutorial for the Electrooculogram).

We had a great time with new friends of all nationalities, ages, and professions. Welcomed with open arms, we received a lot of help to conduct our outreach and travels. And in return, what we provide all comes back to a familiar mission:

‘Neuroscience for Everyone!’

So don’t forget: share your work! Improve interdisciplinary communication and access to neuroscience everywhere.
Onto the next stop! The Backyard Brains Bus will carry us to Patagonia then to Santiago de Chile. We’ll check back in soon! Stay tuned.