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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.

The point? There’s no better way to study the brain than emulate and re-enact its workings. You can make the Neurorobot spin, chase, avoid or run away from different colors, play sounds when triggered by a stimulus of your choice, and do tons of other cool stuff we haven’t tested yet.

Another new project called neuro:bit helps you develop and program your own brain machine interfaces. As all of our kits, it’s K12-friendly and allows for virtually unlimited possibilities—like the FOMO glasses that were piloted 3 years ago by our research fellow Ari Miri.

FENS is one of the world’s biggest neuroscience conferences, and it only happens bi-annually. Still, there was plenty of room for our classics, beloved by audiences! As always, Human-Human Interface was most popular with adults (scientists or laypeople alike), whereas kids were big on the Claw.

For most people, summer is the queietest time of year. To us, it’s likely the busiest. Right after Vienna, we landed in Belgrade, Serbia, for another Summer Research Fellowship! This time around, we’ll be doing it with high-schoolers. Stay tuned for news and experiment sneak peeks!

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