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BYB Diplomacy: Teaching North Korean Refugees

north korean students using backyard brains equipment

— Written by Tim Marzullo —

Backyard Brains’ mission is to spread neuroscience around the world. Our motto is Neuroscience for Everyone! So naturally, when a group of MIT undergraduate students led by Jiwon Kim contacted us, telling us that they were interested in our equipment for some classes they were teaching at Yeomyung School in Seoul, South Korea, we were very happy to help.

Yeomyung school is a school in downtown Seoul that helps North Korean refugees and children of North Korean refugees integrate into the South Korean society. The institute purchased four of our Heart and Brain SpikerBoxes to teach about the science of electrocardiograms (EKGs) and electroencephalograms (EEGs).

The equipment was delivered through our Korean distributor Osunhitech, who also attended the class with us. Backyard Brains helped teach the class and interacted with the students, along with the MIT students, Luyao Tian and Tiffany Louie, helping everyone with their experiments to see their own brain and heart rhythms.

Upon arriving, we were requested not to ask any questions about life north of the 38th parallel, which we of course obliged to. The room was filled with about 20 high school students doing what high school students typically do – talking amongst each other, texting on KakaoTalk, and playing League of Legends and Candy Crush variants on their phones. They were laughing at our poor attempts to speak Korean with our basic vocabulary, and they enjoyed practicing their English, that they are rapidly learning, with us. We demoed some of our popular interface experiments, and we also spoke about our recent experiments recording the EKG non-invasively in dogs and cats (about a third of the class were pet owners).

presentation of heart and brain spikerbox

And now to the most important part of this visit. We surveyed the students asking what their favorite K-pop bands were. Not surprisingly, it was BTS, Blackpink, and Aespa. But diving deeper – Who was their favorite member of these three groups? The data reveals that in BTS, it was Jimin, in Blackpink, it was Jisoo, and in Aespa – remains to be seen, as the data was not collected.

two students hooked up to spikerbox
a student wearing eeg headband
north korean refugee student wearing eeg headband

(All class photos courtesy of the MIT team)

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