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“Circuits to Circuits II” workshop on June 24th. Teachers, sign up today!

It’s time for our second teacher workshop! In collaboration with the great folks at the SquareOne Education Network, we are hosting a teacher workshop on June 24th, 2011, whereby if you are a teacher within driving distance of the greater Detroit area, you can spend a day building your own SpikerBox amplifier and running experiments to take back to your classroom. You will also gain a wealth (the greatest wealth) of knowledge on how to do easy neuroscience with your students. Sign up is $25 and includes all the gear, materials, and lunch. To apply, fill out the very brief application and send to Barb Land at SquareOne! Space is limited (20 max), and yes, we do have SBCEU’s available! Welcome to the NeuroRevolution!

This workshop is subsidized by Backyard Brains, the SquareOne Network, and the Michigan Society for Neuroscience to give secondary school teachers access to tools to improve teaching about the brain. If you are a science professional (graduate student, professor, physician), you are welcome to come as well, but the fee is the normal $90 charge per attendee.

Date: Friday, June 24th at the Macomb Intermediate School District


8:30 – 8:45: Introductions

8:45 – 9:00: Brief lecture on electronics

9:00 – 10:00: SpikerBox Building Session I

10:00 – 10:30: Deeper Discussion on electronics

10:30 – 12:00: SpikerBox Building Continues

12:00 – 12:30: Lunch

12:30 – 1:15: SpikerBox Building Finish/ lecture on neuroscience

1:15 – 2:45: Experiments

2:45 – 3:30: Data Discussion/Feedback




Yes, this will make complete sense to you by the end of the day! Oh transistor, is there anything you cannot do?

Thanks to FundScience for Helping Us Sponsor an Optogenetics Design Project

Thanks to all who donated! The mission of FundScience is to get the public directly involved in funding scientific enterprise, so, of course, where did the $512.20 we raised actually go? Did it dump right into indirect costs? No way! Our organization develops low-cost neurotechnology, and the support of FundScience helped enable the building of an optogenetics prototype for a senior final design project we sponsored at the University of Michigan. What is optogenetics? It’s an exciting technology, developed in the early 2000’s, of stimulating neurons with light. The neurons in fruit flies and mice are modified using genetic engineering techniques, and the creatures have light-sensitive ion channels. It’s a rather useful technology (just ask any neuroscientist), but to date has only been available at advanced research institutions. But because of you, not anymore. We have made preliminary inroads towards making optogenetics a tool even high school students can use!

For our prototype to allow portable demonstrations of optogenetics in transgenic fruit flies, we needed a neuroamplifier, a micromanipulator, a microscope, and LED light controller. Backyard Brains has its own amplifier (the SpikerBox), and we decided to go with an off-the-shelf inexpensive microscope rather than design our own optics. Thus, our design efforts focused on the manipulator, the LED control, and the biological preparation. We worked with five seniors in biomedical engineering (Emily, Zack, Nick, John, and Sharon, all from Southeastern Michigan) over about 12 weeks. We are happy to report we were successful in building a functional prototype that we then tested with scientist Stefan Pulver of Cornell University/University of Cambridge.Here is a picture of the prototype.

On April 17th, we successfully recorded EMG’s (electromyograms) from channelrhodopsin-2 expressing fruit flies using the prototype we built. These flies have ChR expressed in their glutamatergic neurons, and when blue light is flashed upon them, the muscles in their body wall contract. Using the manipulator to place the electrode on the exposed muscle, the microscope to view the dissection, the amplifier to record EMGs, and the LED controller to flash light, we had a fully contained optogenetics rig. Below you can listen to an audio recording of light-evoked EMG. It’s noisy, but you can hear the response!

[audio:|titles=Larva EMG Recording in Response to Blue Light]

Here are the students posing with their invention!

For our second prototype, which we are currently working on, we will increase the stability of the manipulator by combining the y and x-axis with the z-axis of the manipulator. We also need to improve the iPhone application that controls the LED. The biggest weakness of our design is more biological than mechanical; the Drosophila dissection takes expertise to do well. Once the stability improves, we will begin demoing this unit to high schools. We have actually already begun demonstrations of the behavioral responses of transgenic fruit flies to blue light. See below for some investigation by students at Winans Academy in Detroit.

We thank all the donators who contributed to this project, the hard working senior design students, and our colleague Stefan Pulver for providing the fruit flies, time, and expertise. We are bootstrapping the continued development; the work continues! Below is the exact cost breakdown of the use of the funds.


Backyard Brains Opens Up the Books

Finances are on our collective minds as we all hurry to send in our taxes to the IRS this week, therefore we think this is a great time to announce somefinancialnews of our own. Starting with this year’s tax filing, we are making Backyard Brains open books, meaning that all employees (both of us) and the public are free to pour over our finances in detail and see how much money we take in, and where the money goes.We have set up a page on our website to allows you to see how we are doing on a day-to-day basis:

Our finances to date

Above is our total revenue since we started taking sales. In 2010 we took in $25,000 in sales of SpikerBoxes (and another $3,850 in grants/awards). Where did this money go? Were we good stewards of our new-found wealth? Or did we give cash bankruptcy bonuses to our top execs? It’s up to you to judge. Below you will find the top 10 expenses for all of 2010. Note that a majority of our expenses were directly related to the procurement and distribution of our SpikerBoxes.

Top Vendors of 2010
Vendor Name Amount Spent Why?
DigiKey $5,557.38 SpikerBox Components
FedEx $2,242.08 Shipping and Printing
K & F Electronics $1,617.56 PCB Foundry
Delta Airlines $1,417.00 Flights to SfN
Doubletree Hotels $1,035.82 San Diego is Expensive…
Alex W. $600.00 iPhone Code Monkey
Society for Neuroscience $515.00 Pay it forward.
Radio Shack $350.39 No, not cell phones. Real Parts.
Newark $346.55 More Parts
IX Web Hosting $273.41 Our web server

We did have an expensive trip to San Diego for SfN, but fortunately this was graciously covered by the Anuradha Rao Memorial Travel Award and SFN Next Generation Award. A clever reader may be wondering where our payroll expenses are on this report. It’s not there, because in 2010 we had no payroll. One of our owners (Tim) was reimbursed for personal loans made to the business in 2010, but it wasn’t until this year that he actually started to earn the extravagant full-time salary of $1,500 a month!

We look forward to growing our business in 2011 and offering more products and experiments to feed your hungry brain (RoboRoach available now, and some opto thing-a-ma-genetic-jig may be on the horizon). Stay tuned, and don’t forget to check in on us from time-to-time to see how we are doing. Our minds recollect an old lolcatz cartoon