Over a dozen busy bees, 5 research projects, 4 hot weeks of July, countless data, iterations and coffee cups, one book of experiments to soak it all up and present to the wider audience — and the Backyard Brains 2023 US-Serbian Summer Research Fellowship rounds off. The result will hit the shelves this fall, with the new, Serbian edition of our book “How Your Brain Works” containing brand new experiments that our team started working on.
But if you expect to see a bunch of cockroaches, worms, moths and bees and other invertebrates buzzing around Belgrade’s Center for Promotion of Science lab makerspace where we spent the month, you’re in for a surprise. This time, we ventured into two completely different, even opposite realms, hoping to eventually tie them together. One is the realm of single-celled creatures who don’t seem to be hindered or bothered by their lack of brain. The other lies behind our all-powerful brain and borders on philosophy of awareness. What is consciousness and attention? How do we think what reality is — and how do we share it with others? Finally, is there a way for these two realms to inform and complement each other?
This year’s cohort was small but diverse, composed of three undergrads who flew in from the University of Michigan and four Serbian undergrads from the Universities of Belgrade and Novi Sad. One of the greatest values was the wide variety of backgrounds that came together: from neuroscience to electrical engineering, psychology, molecular biology and computer science.
That means many different viewpoints on a single problem, many ways to realize that your postulate or methodology may be wrong, and many windows of opportunity for an engineer to hop in and save the day. But not everything was about science either. There were boat trips, food sprees, mushroom scavenger hunts, museum visits and even spontaneous chess contests in Belgrade’s ubiquitous cafés.
“Four of the projects were really difficult. Still, in just three weeks, we came up with data and conclusions whether we managed to find what we were looking for. Best of all, we built new tools that we already use and were able to do something new,” sums it up Étienne Serbe-Kamp, our senior scientist and researcher at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, who mentored the fellows together with our co-founders and other scientists from Backyard Brains and Center for Promotion of Science.
Bringing the expanded edition of our book into a new language is just one of the branches of our neuroscience democratization efforts in the Balkan country. Another will be donating 50 of our kits to lab makerspaces and teaching educators how to use them in their classrooms.
See the Projects
First Progress Reports
- Tom DesRosiers, Elsa Fedrigolli & Luka Caric, Fungi With a Spark: Exploring the Electrical Signals of Pink Oysters
- Milica Milosevic & Amanda Putti, Slime Craze Goes on: What Slime Molds Can Teach Us About Decision Making
- Summer Eunhyung Ann, Eye Spy: DIY Eye Tracker Project Unraveling Human Perception
- Milica Manojlovic, The Pinocchio Illusion: How My Nose Grew Without Lying
Second Progress Reports/Conclusions
- Luka Caric, Elsa Fedrigolli & Tom DesRosiers, Back to the Fun-gi: What Mushroom Action Potentials Have Taught Us
- Amanda Putti & Milica Milosevic, The Slime Mold Chronicles: Cracking the (Intelligent?) Behavior of the Brainless
- Summer Eunhyung Ann, 3 Open-Source Games to Investigate Attention Schema
- Milica Manojlovic, Body Schema Experiment Wrap-Up: What Happens in Your Muscles During Pinocchio Illusion?
- Petar Damjanovic, N170 Detection (Or Why Your Brain Picks Faces Over Rolex Watches)