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2024 Summer Research Fellowship: High-Schoolers Design Brain-Machine Interfaces

2024 summer research fellowship in action

Move aside, air guitars! Thanks to one of our latest projects, it is now possible to air-conduct music so that it actually changes in tempo and volume as you move your arms.

This so-called neuro:baton is just one of 12 cool projects being developed on our 2024 Summer Research Fellowship that’s firing up as we speak. Within the following two weeks, 20 high-schoolers will be designing and/or honing these experiments in small teams. Like last year, this Fellowship is happening in Belgrade, Serbia. Also like last year, it will result in a handful of brand new experiments—some to be published in our new book on the inner workings of our mind and consciousness!

Others will hopefully make it to reputable peer-reviewed journals. (Yes, we can’t get enough of high-schoolers publishing papers ever since we nailed it on our first try.)

The talented kids recruited from Belgrade’s high schools are being mentored by two tiers of support: four undergraduates from the University of Michigan who piloted some of these experiments, plus our resident scientists and engineers.

neuro baton project
This is Sofia, one of the undergrad mentors and designer of the neuro:baton.

But making your arm muscles mightier than Herbert von Karajan’s isn’t the only thing our Fellows are working on. Other projects include:

  • a robotic keyboard that’s to be controlled by leg muscles,
  • Spiker-Man armband that flings web when you flex your fingers,
  • glasses that detect your eye blinks,
  • and more…

Say Hello to neuro:bit

You’ve guessed it by now: there’s a new gizmo in the Backyard Brains toolbox. It’s called neuro:bit, and it’s a tool that lets anyone easily build brain-machine interfaces (BMIs, also called BCIs or brain-computer interfaces). It interfaces with electrical signals from your body, and integrates with micro:bit, BBC’s award-winning educational microcomputer!

The only other thing you need is our standard orange cable with 2 recording electrodes and a ground.

neuro:bit, backyard brains tool

We’re putting together a repository with product documentation and experiments, where the new experiments will be added too. Check it out here, and stay tuned for more BYB news!


Backyard Brains in Vienna: FENS 2024 Neuroscience Conference Recap

This summer, we didn’t take a spin on the world’s oldest Ferris wheel that’s still in use. (Late June was just too hot for that.) Nor did we manage to take a bite of Sacher Cake or Viennese Schnitzel famous the world over.

So what did we do in Vienna apart from admiring the city itself? We demoed our classic neuroscience experiments, but also took a spin at presenting new ones that are poised to mark the beginning of a new Backyard Brains era!

Enter Neurorobot & neuro:bit

The video above shows the Neurorobot, a wheeled brain that lets you code its behavior by building neural networks akin to those in our own brains. It’s a venture into computational neuroscience where you can use an intuitive drag-and-drop interface to add neurons, set up their properties and how active they are supposed to be, connect them with sensors, motors, speakers and a mic through synapses of different weights, and even reinforce chosen behaviors with dopamine to learn about neuroplasticity.

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Can First Responders Handle Stress Better? Teen Investigates and Wins Science Fairs Using Human SpikerBox

Sofia R. De Lorenzo presenting her work on stress tolerance first responders
Sofia presents her work. Photo her own

Related Post: High School Students Publish a Paper on Plant Physiology in a Notable Journal

It’s tested and proven: Paramedics, firefighters, police officers and other first responders are almost twice as likely to develop PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) at some point in their lives than the rest of us. Still, many of them are either unaware of it or they go on with their lives without ever reporting or treating it. Worse yet, as reports have it, they are 1.39 times more prone to suicide than others.

While heroes of our communities are busy helping others, there’s someone who thinks of them. Sofia R. De Lorenzo, a teen attending Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, turned to science to find out if stress tolerance in first responders could actually be greater than in civilians. But her aim went beyond asking the right question and finding an answer to it. The overarching goal of her research was to spread awareness of the underreported psychological impact in first responders.

And it just so happened that her research caught the ear of many! Encouraged by her school teacher Jeremy Jonas and mentored by John Moore from the Ricoy Lab, she ran a poster presentation and penned down her findings in a research paper. A bunch of awards would ensue: the SARSEF Fair Grand Award in Behavioral and Social Sciences, APA Certificate of Achievement in Research in Psychological Science, Easterseals Blake Foundation Top Award and The Betsy Bolding Top Award.

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