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Neuroscience for Everyone!

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Fellowship Update: Learning the BYB Way and Preparing to Blog

Happy Memorial day! We hope that you are enjoying yourself on this day of remembrance.

The 2017 fellows have survived their first, grueling week… their days were packed with excitement, learning, and planning! They’ve got a lot of work to do developing their research projects over the next several weeks, but this first week was a great opportunity for them to learn about Backyard Brains, our approach to science, and our kits.

Some fellows were already thinking about expensive microphones and other recording equipment, so we gently reminded them that a high school teacher or a student wouldn’t be able to get such expensive equipment. The spirit of Backyard Brains is in accessibility and reproducibility! To reiterate this point, we trained the fellows on, and had them perform experiments with, the Spikerbox, The Claw, Human-Human-Interface, the RoboRoach, Heart and Brain Spikershield, and Plant Shield. These demonstrations were punctuated, like always, with exclamations like “What?! Do it again,” and “Oh my god, our planet is so alive!” These experiments all used to require expensive lab equipment, but have been made more affordable now thanks to efforts like the fellowship projects.

There are many tools that DIY scientists and communities use, so we began training the fellows on some of our prototyping tools. They learned how to use our Laser Cutter, the 3D printer, and they practiced their soldering skills! The fellows also held daily journal clubs this week. Journal club is a great way for a group to tackle tricky scientific publications together, which is exactly what the fellows have been practicing with publications related to their own projects.

The fellows have the holiday off today, and they’ve got a barbecue to attend later this evening, but tomorrow they all dive into the meat of our work!

The fellows also start writing blog updates tomorrow! Each fellow will be posting updates on our blog documenting their scientific journey. These posts are “behind the scenes,” or rather everything you don’t know about taking a project from an idea, to an experiment, to a publication. They’re excited to introduce themselves to you, and we know you’re excited to meet them!

Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for these updates! Also, if you don’t follow us yet on social media, please join our newsletter for monthly updates, and Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for a window into our little corner of the world.



The $3,000,000 Spike! BYB Sales Milestone

Since we opened our doors in 2010 with the $100 dollar spike, we’ve been working hard to create continue developing affordable, open source neuroscience experiments and educational materials. Seven years later, we’re excited to announce that we have exceeded $3,000,000 in sales! That is more money than the total of all of our grants prior to this month! Curious where that money comes from? Well, you’re in luck, we keep open books! If you haven’t seen it before, check out our finances page. It is exciting to see the growth!

Sales by Month/Year in USD

Here are some of our stats at the time of posting…

We’ve sold 11873 SpikerBoxes

We’ve sold to 85 different countries

Our biggest customers live in California, Michigan, New York, Washington, and Florida

This milestone is important to us, not just because it helps us keep a roof over our head, but because we see every sale as an investment. Every kit sold is a shared stake in our vision to bring neuroscience education to as many people as possible. Not every student will grow up to become a neuroscientist, but we believe it is extremely important that students are introduced to the basics of neuroscience at an early age. At its essence, neuroscience is an exploration of how our bodies function and who we are, and it is a field that is full of more mysteries than answers.

Strong sales and our recent grant prove that people are excited for neuroscience education. Like the grant funding, our sales are reinvested right back into research and development. We’ve got big plans with the next few years, and we’re excited to announce them as soon as we can! So be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter.

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 a “jumper” wire to any two circuit locations until you find when 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 allowing modulation of the noise effect.

While Previous Art Projects have existed that convert EEG to Music (and Backyard Brains has this feature as well), Pablo was interested in making a direct interface between his musical instruments using the strength of the EEG alpha wave power to control a100 kilohm 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 from95 kilohms to 70 kilohms. 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.