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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!


Stationary Electrodes Are The New Black

One of the core tenets of Backyard Brains is our slogan, neuroscience for everyone! We constantly work to drive the world around us into the neurorevolution, and when we hear about projects like Peter Buczkowski’s master’s thesis, we know we’re doing something right.

Peter Buczkowski graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts and in 2017 with a Master of Arts in the Digital Media from the University of the Arts in Bremen. His idea for his masters thesis was born out of a TENS unit, after seeing our Human-Human Interface TED Talk. “I especially liked the receiving part of possessed hand experiment and the idea to use the human as an interface. This inspired me to do my own experiments in that field,” Peter told us. “I chose three topics and build three projects to cover a wide spectrum so one can see the possibilities of this technology in different areas.”

Peter started out with the most basic of scientific endeavors: solving a problem. Doing any sort of human neuroscience or biofeedback research is made a little more difficult the fact that most types of patch electrodes are sticky and a hassle to use, not to mention not very aesthetically pleasing. So he set out to fix that, and now, his projects center around the idea of “stationary” electrodes: not necessarily something attached to the body, but something that a person can just hop onto and start learning. His three projects deal with photography, video game skill, and muscle memory, using the paradigms apparent in our Human-Human Interface experiments to create his designs.

The Prosthetic Photographer

His first project is called the Prosthetic Photographer. “The Prosthetic Photographer is a modular camera attachment that forces you with electric impulses to take beautiful pictures,” Peter wrote. Typical advice for a budding photographer is just to go out and take thousands of photos, and you will learn the difference between and okay shot and a beautiful one. The Prosthetic Photographer aims to shorten that process through machine learning. Using machine learning to distinguish between high and low quality photos and neural networking to connect the computer, the camera, and the user, the ProstheticPhotographer is an example of machine learning and human learning coming together. 

The device is a modular one that can be added to any compatible camera, utilizing a TENS unit to render the user as a conduit for its learning, controlling the photographs being taken and teaching its concept of aesthetics to the user. Electrodes on the camera’s handle transmits a shock signal to the user causing an involuntary press of a button, and a subsequent shutter click. A camera with its own eye for beauty! Photography will never be the same.

Prosthetic Photographer from Peter Buczkowski on Vimeo.

Twitch

Building upon the machine learning aspect of his work, Peter moved on to his second project, utilizing Twitch to condition people to play video games perfectly. Twitch.tv is an online streaming platform that lets gamers both showcase their play and observe others in order to beat a particularly hard section of a game. This unconventional style of video game play gave Peter an idea: what if a computer were to tell you what your next move is?

 

In a version of the classic computer game “Snake,” a computer calculates whether the next move should be left, right, up, or down, dividing the buttons between two electrode arrays (one for each hand). The computer then transmits its decision to the corresponding button and stimulates the finger to press that button, and the snake moves in the decided-upon direction. Sure, it takes the human guesswork out of the game, but without a human, it would not be possible!

Twitch from Peter Buczkowski on Vimeo.

The Medium Machine

Finally, Peter built the Medium Machine, the most speculative of his projects. According to his website, “The Medium Machine enables [a computer] to transfer data and information in the form of muscle contractions into the unconscious mind of a human.” The inspiration for this project arose from a short story called “Johnny Mnemonic” by William Gibson, in which a man’s brain is turned into a sort of repository for information that he transports from client to recipient. With the Medium Machine, Peter hoped to effect a similar repository–albeit without removing the user’s memory to make room for it. Again, the muscles are connected to stimulation, this time encoded by the computer in a certain pattern or message. The contractions force the finger to push a button in a cadence that could mean anything–until it is decoded by the right person.

“The human becomes a medium and a messenger between systems,” Peter wrote. Just like in the story! The possibilities for discovery and the applications of the science are endless. 

Medium Machine from Peter Buczkowski on Vimeo.

We are very intrigued to follow along with Peter as he pursues these projects and starts more. He is currently working with other innovators to create business plans for their projects. Learn more about Peter’s work on his website, http://peterbuczkowski.com

Do you have an application of our products, or a story to share about your own work? Send us a message at hello@backyardbrains.com!