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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.

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High Schooler Named Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar for His Venus Flytrap Project w/ Plant SpikerBox

regeneron science talent search scholar venus flytrap

What’s the effect of our warming climate on Venus flytrap, a carnivorous, bloodthirsty (or shall we say fly-thirsty?) yet vulnerable plant? And how can we help preserve this amazing species? These questions were asked by 18-year-old Mulin Huan from Princeton High School in New Jersey, whose research project made it to top 300 high school seniors in this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search.

To examine the effect of temperature on the plant, Mulin measured the amplitudes of action potentials in 30 Venus Flytrap individuals using our Plant SpikerBox. A 5°C enviroment temperature makes for significantly lower amplitudes than the control 30°C and regular 40°C environments, his study shows. However, as the amplitudes decrease in the harsher environment, the plant’s maximum memory time between two hair stimuli that trigger its trap to close–goes up. That is, the plant tends to “remember” better!

venus flytrap action potentials amplitude
The average relative value of Venus’s action potentials
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Dog and Cat EKG: Recording Electrocardiograms in Humans’ Favorite Companions

dog and cat ekg
“You gonna take dat signal from my toys too?”

— Written by Tim Marzullo —

All vertebrate animals have hearts (and many invertebrates too), and many have EKGs that can be non-invasively recorded as commonly done in humans. We have fairly hairless bodies, so we can easily put sticker electrodes on our wrists or chests to record our EKG. 

However, many of us share our households with furry four-legged creatures that bring us joy, companionship, humor, protection and pest control. Could we record their EKGs too? We know that the smaller the mammal, the faster the heart rate, but can we see this trend in our own pets, and in a way that minimally annoys our household friends? Yes we can. Ladies and gentlemen, the Dog and Cat EKG.

Dog EKG

For our dog EKG investigations, we chose a two-year-old Vizsla dog named “Santina”, cared for by BYBer Florencia Edwards. This dog has very short hair and a gentle disposition, making it ideal for our pilot experiments. We modified our EEG headband by using tennis wristbands instead, inserting metal buttons into the wristbands (the buttons we find in jeans and wallets), and slipped them on her front two legs (signal electrodes), and one rear leg (ground). 

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