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Tech Trek and Fellow Updates

Fresh, organic, locally sourced meditation researchLast 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!


The summer is winding down, and with it our Fellowship. While scientific exploration is never really finished, here are some wrap-ups from our Fellows on the projects they have devoted their inquiry to over the past weeks.

BYB in High School!

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 hello@backyardbrains.com and we may feature your students’ work as well! And, you know, junior publication credits look great on College Applications…



Breaking Into the Toy Market

STEM Ed Toys of the Future!

BYB’s adventures at Toy Fair 2018

Toy Fair is one of the largest gatherings of toy manufacturers, distributors, and buyers in the world, and in 2018, we threw our hat into the ring! We’ve been at this whole DIY Neuroscience thing in an educational space for almost 9 years, and we thought it was about time to test the waters in the consumer market, and Toy Fair was a great opportunity to do just that: we were in the room with giants like Hasbro and ThinkFun, learning how we could improve the toy factor of our science kits. Our table was situated in the “Launchpad” section of the conference where other companies new to Toy Fair were also showing off their offerings! (Will got a sneak peek at some of the hot new STEM Ed games hitting the shelves this year during his wanderings–just you wait for Killer Snails the Card Game!)

We did a lot of demos, we did presentations for press, and we did what we could to spread the good word: Neuroscience is here, it’s important, and it’s fun! A few local news stations featured us, helping amplify our voice. We demoed some new prototypes, and our stalwart Human-Human Interface was popular as usual. We were in new territory and a lot of people had never heard of us before, so it was a great opportunity to build new relationships and attract new attention.

Zach, our Development Engineer, said, “I enjoyed demoing to people who had never seen our kits before but are part of increasing the amount of STEM education tools.  We received a lot of great feedback from others in the industry about their experiences and issues that we can avoid.  It was also great to test out some of our new/updated products that we are developing.” Zach’s newest developments include the Neuron SpikerBox Pro and Muscle SpikerBox Pro, as well as the Plant SpikerBox, his little leafy baby.

His partner in crime at Toy Fair 2018 was Will, our resident Outreach Coordinator, poet, and maker of schpiels. He’s been getting people to roll their sleeves up for science for a long time now. He said of the show, “I’m pretty used to explaining our work to educators and scientists, so Toy Fair was a totally new experience. I wasn’t sure how non-scientists would react to the gear, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that everyone loved the kits and wanted to try them for themselves! It was exciting to show so many people, for the first time in their lives, real neuroscience experiments and recordings from their brains and nervous systems!”

Toy Fair was a big success for us. We tried on a toymaker’s hat to see if it fit, and who knows what the future will bring?