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Welcome 2017 Backyard Brains Fellows!

From left to right: Top: Greg Gage (Not a Fellow), Zachary, Jaimie, Spencer, Nathan, Ilya Bottom: Joud, Christy, Haley

It’s early on a warm Ann Arbor morning and the office is buzzing with excitement! Our Summer 2017 research fellows are here! Today, our fellows are getting to know the staff and space at Backyard Brains, but more importantly, they’re planning, because for the next ten weeks they will be working on neuroscience and engineering research projects. The projects include work with Squids, Songbirds, Dragonflies, Mosquitoes, EEG recordings, and Electric Fish. The fellows work to create inexpensive, DIY methodology (the BYB way) to tackle their research problems and then present their findings at a poster presentation and in a journal publication. The fellows also develop experimental-grade versions of their projects so that other students and teachers can perform the experiments themselves!

After a morning of introductions and orientation, we took a quick break for lunch, then hurried back to the office to perform some recordings. For many of our fellows, working with our SpikerBoxes was their first opportunity to perform real neuron recordings! This is just the beginning of a summer of hands on science, rapid prototyping, troubleshooting, and data collection.

Quick Italian Buffet for Lunch

Recording from Earthworm neurons. Spikes!

As part of the fellowship, the students will be keeping you updated with frequent blog posts. These posts are a great window in the world of research! From start to finish, you can follow along with our fellows as they experience the triumphs and pitfalls of scientific inquiry.

You’ll be hearing a lot about our fellows and their projects for the next ten weeks. They’re excited to introduce themselves and their projects to you soon. Keep an eye out here, on our Facebook page, and Twitter for project updates and more!


A Cockroach’s Life Cycle

In case you’re unfamiliar with Backyard Brains, we like Cockroaches. You might even say we love them. Cockroach’s are hardy insects with a knack for neuroscience and performance. The cockroaches we work with are known as Blaberus Discoidalis or False Death’s Head cockroaches (among many common names). They are often bred for reptile food but we use them for science! Thanks to their size, their legs are big enough for neuroscience and their bodies are big enough to carry the roboroach backpack without falling over. Also, they cannot fly outside of tropical environments and they cannot climb up smooth surfaces like glass (helps to keep them from leaving the cage!) We love our roaches, so we take our roach husbandry very seriously! This is an involved process that involves keeping substrates clean, environments free from mold and fungi, keeping the roach’s well fed and hydrated, but what you might not expect is that we’re actually involved in the rearing process as well!

Last week our dedicated roach caretaker found something exciting while cleaning one of our big terrariums: an egg pouch!
Egg Pouch

We decided to take this opportunity to examine the life cycle of our roaches! We separated the egg pouch and placed it in its own, clean terrarium. Our initial plan was to “Truman Show” it, but after deciding that a 24/7 live feed of the cockroach terrarium probably wouldn’t draw in significant viewership, we decided instead to just post updates as the action happens – think of it like the greatest hits of a cockroach’s life! Keep an eye on the blog and stay tuned for updates!


DIY Cockroach Water Dispenser

Tired of having to dampen those sponges, and adding fresh potatoes for your cockroaches during these dry winter months? Well, this may be the solution for you. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Twine (We borrowed some from Colin Stoetzner’s science video art project)
  • Shampoo/Mouthwash sampler bottle
  • Pair of Scissors
  • Cockroaches (Optional)

DIY Cockroach Water Spout

Simply poke a hole in the top of the bottle, thread the twine through, fill with water, and voil! You have yourself a self-feeding water bottle! The twine will continually be moist, allowing your little friends to drink during the cover of night.

Special thanks to Karen Coulter for giving ByB this tip from her days studying cockraoches for the RHex Robot Project.