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The Fellows Summer Experience: Tigers Game and July Fourth Parade

One of the most attractive things about a BYB Summer Fellowship is the chance to spend a summer in colorful Ann Arbor. We changed the program name from an internship to a fellowship because of the lasting connections made throughout the summer, and these connections are made possible by the things we all do together! Before we get to some project updates, here’s a little bit about our summer together so far.

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

Last summer, we sponsored a student whose visa required participation in a “cultural appreciation” event, so we piled into a bus and headed over to Comerica Park for some of America’s favorite sport, baseball. It was such a hit, we went again this year! Luckily, Backyard Brains signature color  (orange!) matches pretty well with the Tigers brand 😉

Fourth of July Parade

Another celebrated BYB Summer Fellowship pastime is the Jaycee’s Fourth of July Parade! Each year, the fellows design and build a costume representing their summer research and wear it as BYB walks in the annual parade! Check out some of the looks from this year:


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. 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!

Citizen Science Sleepaway Camp: BYB Visits Campus Party Brazil

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!!

Jellies, and GUIs, and Costumes, Oh My!

Hello again! This is Anastasiya, and I’m here to tell you that there have been a LOT of developments in my project since we last spoke. For starters, we now have live jellies!

And while that’s arguably the most important news, I also have updates on the tank setup, the custom jellyfish tracking software, and a first glimpse of my 4th of July jellyfish costume.

The Jellies:

We have actually received two shipments of jellyfish, because, unfortunately, the first batch disintegrated overnight due to water quality. While the unexpected loss was depressing and slightly traumatizing, we did give it another shot after reevaluating and fixing what we thought went wrong the first time. This second shipment of jellies has survived for over 4 days now, and it seems the current jellies are stable, which is great! You can see a GIF of one of the new clytia hemisphaerica below (please note that these jellies are tiny, less than 20 mm in diameter, and therefore are really hard to get on camera).

Tank Setup:

I now have a 3 tank setup as opposed to the original two tank one. With 3 tanks, I now have the opportunity to test what works best for the jellyfish to help avoid as many disintegrations as possible. I can observe the differences found from feeding varying amounts of brine shrimp (how much is too little/too much?), from trying out different protective tank coverings (mesh vs plastic bag), and from following different water changing schedules (gradual change daily? all at once weekly?). I don’t want one seemingly harmless act to cause an extinction-level event in our modest population of jellies, and this 3-tank separation helps with that.

Overall, I’m super excited that the jellies are here and alive, and I can’t wait to watch their behaviors over the next few weeks and to try to make sense of it!

The software:

While I was originally going to use OpenCV and C++ for the tracking software, I decided against it, because I wanted to create a GUI with Windows Forms instead. I would prefer a GUI (Graphical User Interface) so that other fellows, researchers, and hobbyists would be able to use my program without having to learn and alter my code. I am now creating everything via C# .net and use EmguCV (a wrapper for OpenCV for languages like C#). A couple screenshots of my current GUI are included below, and the code behind the GUI has had significant progress (I’d guesstimate that I’m about halfway done).

The Costume:

The 4th of July parade is just around the corner (or maybe it has even passed by the time you all read this), and it’s a Backyard Brains tradition for the fellows to dress up as their projects and walk in the parade. My project is ‘The Secret Life of Jellyfish,’ so it only makes sense that I create a costume that resembles my tiny aquatic preps. With the help of a clear bubble umbrella, some tulle, and a flexible LED strip, I think I’ve succeeded in this endeavor!

To the left is the finished umbrella serving as the bell-shaped body and tentacles of my jellyfish impersonation. It has a strip of LEDs wrapped around the top of the umbrella to light up the costume, so hopefully these LEDs will be bright enough to be noticeable during the day-time 4th of July parade.

I will also have a dress on for the parade made up of similar colors and materials to the costume-jellyfish’s body/tentacles, but for photos of the full costume/dress ensemble, as well as videos of actual live jellyfish doing really cool jellyfish activities, you’ll need to wait for the next post 😉 .