Before I spill the Feijoada about Backyard Brains’ awesome experience at Campus Party Brazil, I should mention that I firmly believe that education can save the world. I should also mention that in regards to our brains, according to neuroscience research, your education lasts your entire life.
I’ll cut to the chase: my recent Brazilian adventure with Backyard Brains has inspired me to write this to promote lifelong education and moreover, to remind you that learning can be enjoyable and even thrilling. It certainly doesn’t have to be bound to a classroom. Keep in mind that evolutionarily speaking, survival did not depend on absorbing curated lesson plans 8 hours a day in a classroom, but upon chaotic and reactive information-gathering experiences.
At birth our brains develop at an extremely rapid rate. Babies form new neurons at a rate of 250,000 every minute! By the time a child is three years old, their brain will reach 80% of adult volume and create close to 1000 trillion connections between billions of neurons. There is a prevailing myth about the brain that after a certain age we stop forming new neurons. This has been dispelled by current research and it’s clear that the brain has an amazing ability to change throughout life. This is called neuroplasticity and it’s the brain’s ability for our neurons to rewire and add new neurons in regions involved in learning throughout our lifetimes. Believe it or not, these new neurons show the same plasticity as seen in the rapidly developing brain of newborns. On top of that, the adult brain uses about 25% of the body’s metabolic energy despite being on average only 2% of our entire body weight. So considering that a quarter of your energy going to supporting you brain, which has this amazing adaptability to develop and optimize throughout life, why not continually take advantage of your own brain’s superpower of learning?
So, what if we threw super-fun, non-stop parties that were also packed full of learning opportunities? What if these events ran non-stop for up to a week straight? What if we invited world leaders of technology, entertainment, innovation, creativity and science to give inspiring keynote speeches and exciting, intimate workshops? Would the world become a better place?
No need to ponder any further: this type of forward-thinking, multidisciplinary educational party already exists! It’s called Campus Party and Backyard Brains had a blast earlier this year at Campus Party Brazil!
The very first Campus Party to happen in all of Asia is coming soon. This July 6th – 8th, join us at Campus Party Singapore! Backyard Brains will be there putting on two workshops each day. Come learn about neuroscience with us through fun hands-on experiments. You can create your own cyborg cockroach in the RoboRoach Workshop and control your friend’s mind in the Human Interface Workshop. We hope to see you there!!
Last Friday, Backyard Brains once again opened our doors (even wider–they’re always open during business hours!) to our fellow and aspiring citizen scientists 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! BYB has participated for the last few years, and it is always a hit.
For four hours on Friday afternoon, we were packed with people from all walks of life who were interested in learning about Backyard Brains and neuroscience! It was a day of education, outreach, and new connections. In the office, we demonstrated our classic, the Human to Human Interface, as well as The Claw, and we even helped people control Mario with their eye blinks!
Our Summer Fellows also got in on the action, presenting their work down in the Makerspace at All Hands Active. This was the first chance our fellows got to share their science with the community, letting people in on their secrets and experiment rigs. For example, Silkmoth Fellow Jess was running experiments on a cockroach antenna during Tech Trek: Some kids were watching when she used different odors to try to get a reaction in the antenna, as pictured below:
It was definitely a unique opportunity, full of its own trials. According to Mantis Shrimp Fellow Dan, “I was trying to collect behavioral data with the mantis shrimp while his implants were falling out, and people would come by who obligingly ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the prep and politely listened to my spiel about EMGs and the strike. I’ve never presented about my research while actively conducting it.”
Meet the Fellows, See the Projects
Catch up with our Fellows! Since our Fellowship started, each fellow has been hard at work on their summer research. Saw a cool project and you want to know more? Check out these posts introducing each Fellowship research track:
First Progress Reports:
If you’ve been dying for an update on what we’ve been researching, fret no more! Feast your eyes on our first batch of updates!
Second Progress Reports:
Science marches ever onward! The Fellows have kept plugging away on their research in between all the fun and games, and here are their newest updates!
Backyard Brains always loves hearing about our equipment making its way out into the world and into a classroom, so we were thrilled to hear from Dr. Nancy Cowdin, a Neuroscientist and Science teacher at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School. Dr. Cowdin recently taught an elective course in Neuroscience where seniors at the all-girls high school in Washington, DC had done some research with our SpikerBoxes!
“We were given some start-up funds by a donor to purchase the kits. The students first constructed the DIY spiker boxes (with some difficulties… but it proved to be a great problem-solving activity),” Dr. Nancy Cowdin shared–just what we like to hear! “For the research projects, each group selected an experiment of interest from those listed on your Backyard Brains website. They designed a research protocol (modified from your experiments), created an Informed Consent for all human-subject projects, were required to keep a laboratory notebook, recruited and tested subjects, and figured out how to use the recordings to analyze the data.
The culmination of their work was a poster session and a formal presentation to fellow classmates and some faculty members. The students took away each other’s free will with the Human-Human Interface; they examined the difference in muscle fatigue between softball players and pianists with the Muscle SpikerBox; they observed the effects of various substances on the cockroach nervous system with the Neuron SpikerBox (which they built themselves!); they looked at eye action potentials and the mysterious P300 signal with our Heart & Brain SpikerShield.
“All in all, this was a very worthwhile endeavor. I have done research with sleep physiology in past years but your equipment broadened our horizons!” Dr. Cowdin plans to order more Backyard Brain kits in the future and further incorporate the SpikerBox into her class again. Another successful recruit to the Neurorevolution! Thank you, Dr. Cowdin and the senior girls of Georgetown Visitation, and keep spreading the word!
We’d love to hear your success stories. Share them with us at email@example.com and we may feature your students’ work as well! And, you know, junior publication credits look great on College Applications…