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How to Get Reeled into NeuroDuino – a Mathematician’s Guide (Part II)

Neuroduino
A NeuroDuino, Backyard Brains’ latest prototype

Hi there, it’s Natalia Díaz again with an update to my neuromathematical (yes, such a thing exists!) project. If you don’t remember me, I’m a student of Mathematical Engineering at the University of Santiago de Chile and I’m doing my internship here in BackyardBrains.

Since the last time we met (you and I, that is), BYB co-founder Tim Marzullo sent me some cool stuff. Not that it’s an exclusive privilege of interns, mind you! Anyone can find them in the “Muscle SpikerShield Bundle” kit.

With this bundle, you can do several very entertaining experiments such as seeing on your smartphone the action potentials that are produced when you move your muscles. You can also use the Muscle SpikerShield to control video games, robotics, and musical instruments.

It took a while for my board to pass customs, but it managed to arrive and we got to work right away. What I was most excited about was the arrival of new prototype from Backyard Brains – their very own customized Arduino board – codenamed NeuroDuino. (See above how handsome it is!)

Ben Antonellis, a guy who works for Backyard Brains, had created certain functions for a new interface called “NeuroBoard” that will make it easier for users to write working code for the Muscle SpikerShield / NeuroDuino. But the functions needed to be tested and verified by someone other than the principal developer. So, Tim asked me to do the testing and document the process.

Then came testing, testing, testing…

Testing Neuroduino
Natalia, Tim, Python and masks

So what we did at the beginning was try to understand the code that Ben created, where he explained to us a bit what each function should do. For this, we use the Arduino and C ++ programs. For example, we have commands to:

  • Start measurements
  • Find the greatest value of the channel measurements
  • Define the channel that we are going to use (if we select a different one from the one used, there will be no measurements)
  • Function to determine which button is pressed
  • Etc. (Still letting our imagination run wild!)

At first, we had a little trouble at understanding the commands and nomenclature, but we managed to test several of the pre-made functions. However, some did not work for us, so we asked Ben to help us figure out what we were doing wrong.

Ben helped us right away, tweaked the code a bit, and finally the three of us were able to test all the functions. Most of them worked well and some have yet to be modified. But we made a breakthrough, and now most of the code is tested and verified save for a relay function that’s still patiently waiting for its 15 minutes (or hours) of fame.

We are almost done with this phase of my internship, and for the rest of February, my final month, I will be looking into some custom Python analysis scripts.

Tim and I have been working remotely for the past two months, but we finally had a chance to work face-to-face this week (with social distancing and masks of course). The picture above shows how it went.

Stay tuned for my final blog post update at the end of February!


Backyard Brains Receives Prestigious Tibbetts Award 2020 for “Demonstrating Significant Economic and Social Impact”

backyard brains tibbetts award 2020

Another accolade is about to hit our shelves! The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced recipients of the prestigious Tibbetts Award 2020. Backyard Brains is one of 38 companies that are deemed “beacons of promise and models of excellence in high technology.” Every year, Tibbie goes to companies, individuals and organizations “for the exceptional successes they achieved through SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)” program.

This recognition further fuels our mission to keep building low-fi yet research-grade neuroscience gear and bringing it into your average school classroom. The goal is to help kids dip their toes into project-based science today so that they could help cure billions of people from neurological disorders tomorrow. That’s exactly what Tibbie is all about: a mix of “economic and social impact,” of research and development to propel young companies and help them serve our communities better.

Tibbie is named after Rolland Tibbetts, a senior program officer at the National Science Foundation who founded the SBIR/STTR federal funding program for small innovative companies. Backyard Brains was and still is one of these companies. And we wouldn’t have gotten very far without the support from farsighted federal grant programs for ideas that need time to blossom into successful commercial projects.

Today, we are joining the hall of fame of hundreds of companies and organizations who have been awarded Tibbie since its inception in 1995. Indeed, some multinational giants have kicked off their journey with Tibbie, including Qualcomm, 23andMe, Symantec and Broadcom. Here’s to hoping that we’ll grow at least half as big within the next decade!

Tibbetts Award 2020 is just another star in the BYB Awards & Honors list

backyard brains tibbetts award 2020
Our cofounders Tim Greg with their first award back in 2008

Since it’s bragging time, let’s boast some more! Here’s a list of the many awards and honors Backyard Brains has received over the past 12 years. (It’s not all there is, but we are not very meticulous at keeping track!)

  • 2020 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Award. GS10KSB is a selective four month training program (worth $50,000) for business leadership and growth strategies.
  • 2020 Invited Talk – J. James Wood Lecture – Butler University
  • 2018 Collaboration with HarvardX on the largest neuroscience massive open online course “Fundamentals of Neuroscience”
  • 2018 Profiled on “Bill Nye Saves the World” on Netflix for our Human-Human Interface kit
  • 2018 Collaboration with TED on new video series: DIY Neuroscience. Each episode features an undergraduate student developing easy-to-use neuroscience research tools for the K12 classroom
  • 2017 Invited talk at the Annual Computational and Systems Neuroscience (Cosyne) 2017 Meeting
  • 2017 Invited talk at TED2017 on plant electrophysiology
  • 2016 Profiled on Mythbuster’s “White Rabbit Project” on Netflix for our human-based neuroscience  inventions
  • 2015 TED Talk about taking away a person’s free will
  • 2014 Invited Speaker at the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series
  • 2014 TED Senior Fellow, 3rd talk featuring Human-Human Interface available online
  • 2013 Recipient of the United States “Champions of Change” award at the White House for our work in promoting citizen science
  • 2013 Nominee. 5th Annual Imagine Science Film Festival. Controlled Experiments
  • 2013 Profiled on CNN’s The Next List as a forward-looking thinkers in the fields of tech, science and social change
  • 2012 TED Fellow. Presented two TED talks on our work. The now famous “Cockroach Beatbox” TED talk was selected to launch the TED K12 Education initiative entitled “TED Ed”
  • 2011 Start-Up Chile Fellow.  Recipient of $40k in grant funding to start operations in Latin America
  • 2011 Editors Choice Award: Maker Faire Detroit
  • 2010 Society for Neuroscience Next Generation Award for “outstanding contributions to public outreach and science education”
  • 2010 Society for Neuroscience Anuradha Rao Memorial Travel Award
  • 2010 Marine Biological Laboratory Neural Systems and Behavior course, Woods Hole, MA
  • 2008 The $100 Spike Project is one of four presentations highlighted out of 10,000 for the Journal Nature’s Neuroscience Podcast “Highlights of SfN 2008”

DIY Neuroscience and AI for All – Virtual Workshop by IBRO-LARC/PEDECIBA

diy neuroscience and ai for all workshop

Who says that hands-on approach doesn’t work in virtual space? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: science is doable, DIY-able, interactive, and it works online just as efficiently as it does in person!

Back in August 2020, the IBRO-LARC/PEDECIBA* “DIY Neuroscience and AI for all” workshop showed that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have to stand in the way of hands-on neuroscience. BYB founders, Drs. Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, who also took part in the project, tell us that student attendants from Uruguay, Argentina, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Peru were super engaged and motivated. “I had concerns about a virtual conference at first, but all fears were put to rest once seeing it play out. The discussion, questions and feedback during my lecture was better than in-person,” says Greg.

In his lecture aptly titled “Neuroscience tools for the 99%”, he recounted the humble, bohemian beginnings of Backyard Brains over a decade ago, when he and Tim invented a $100 spike in their dorm room. Building a contraption from scratch and pitching the idea to the scientific community and the public are two different things, so they came up with a satirical narrative about a zombie apocalypse to attract people to their booth at the Society for Neuroscience conference. The rest is history!

In one of his two presentations (which, alas, aren’t available in English), Tim discussed open-source philosophy and ways to make your own lab at home. Hablas Español, anyone? In case you do, here is the video. (If you take notes in English, do send them over!)

Tim also demonstrated the Venus Flytrap experiment featuring our good old friend, the Plant SpikerBox, to show a very unique talent that some plants developed: the ability to count, calculate and anticipate. Heart & Brain SpikerBox also made an appearance.

María Castelló (Clemente Estable Biological Research Institute), who organized and coordinated the event, confirms that the program was successful and productive, despite the lack of in-person dimension. “Three of the students groups not only prepared their reports but also send manuscripts for publication in an Uruguayan journal for teachers from the Biology Department of the National Administration of Public Education,” Maria told us.

*IBRO (International Brain Research Organization) is an international federation of scientific organizations. It was founded back in 1961 with the mission to promote neuroscience accross the world and foster collaboration between individual researchers as well as scientific communities. IBRO’s LARC (Latin America Regional Committee) is one of their six regional branches spreading accross the continents. PEDECIBA (Basic Sciences Development Program) is Uruguay’s national interdisciplinary program that fosters scientific research as part of the United Nations Development Progoramme (UNDP).