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SpikerBox Make and Take Workshop

We’ve often been told “I’d love to make a SpikerBox kit, but I can’t solder!” Well, if you live near the Backyard Brains World Headquarters (a living room in Ann Arbor, MI) you are in luck. We are putting on a “Make and Take” workshop on Sunday, December 5th.

This workshop will teach you everything you need to know to build, solder, and assemble your very own SpikerBox. Once completed, we will run some experiments so you can record spikes on your very own creation.

Spots are limited. More information is available online. Hope to see you there!

Microstimulation Experiment: Yes, you can excite the leg with your phone

Another common request we get from users is “Can you stimulate the leg as well?” to which we have always replied, “Yes, there are some stimulation circuits we can build, we have that idea in the queue.” Which means, of course, that the idea is relegated to the backlog of the many cool things we can work on given our limited resources, which by extension means the prototype development will be awhile.

But happily, we realized were overthinking it! It turns out the output of headphone jack on a computer/iPhone is1.3 V, with a maximum output of 750 A. Tim seems to recall (shameless self-promotion) from his graduate work that those voltage/current levels are well above the requirements to excite muscle and nervous system tissue. Fellow colleagues, we now present, to our growing video lab, how to do your own microstimulation experiment!


BYB visits a Scanning Electron Microscope

Here at Backyard Brains, we often get the question “Is that leg really still alive?” to which we respond “Why yes… that’s why you hear the Spikes”. The follow up question “How does it stay alive?” was often replied with similar authority: “They have tiny holes called spiracles that allow them to ‘breathe’ through their skin”. However, that last statement never sat well with us. We’ve never seen these holes, only read about them in passing in the text books.

Enter John Mansfield from the University of Michigan Electron Microbeam AnalysisLaboratory. We met John through his daughter Betsy who caught our eye a cockroach expert during an outreach event on campus. He was kind enough to let us take a closer look at the leg to see if we could find these spiracles.

John Mansfield readies a cockroach for scanning in the SEM

The first thing John did was place the leg in the SEM and pressurize the chamber to around 1.5-2 Torr. We could look inside the SEM from a computer that was used to control the scope.

Before long, John was able to zoom in closely and snap some beautiful images of our leg… but we couldn’t find the spiracles we were searching for. Below are some of the pictures that we saw (kind of… they were B&W, so we colored the legs here to make them look cooler).

After searching for about an hour, nothing. We even brought in an expert to help us look over the images, but to no avail…

We then flipped the leg over and tried again.The spiracles had to be on the backside! Right? No! We didn’t find any. The reason, it turns out, is that there are no spiracles on the leg at all! They are only contained on the main body of the cockroach.

This remains a mystery at Backyard Brains. How can a leg stay alive and fire spikes for up to 48 hours after it has been detached? With no way to exchange CO2 and O2? We still don’t have an answer for this. We’d like to hear your theories. This could be the makings of a great science caper.