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BYB World Tour IV

Hello my friends,

This is the 4th edition of the Backyard Brains World Tour. Just a short reminder: my name is Etienne ‘ÉT’ Serbe and I’m currently travelling in South America to spread the word of Neuroscience. After nearly 20 presentations, workshops, or demonstrations of Neuroscience basics in Brasil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru, I found my way all the way up to Bucaramanga, Colombia. Since my last post, where I was summarizing my stay in Patagonia, I visited Tim in Santiago de Chile and, afterwards, experienced some adventurous weeks trying to find my way up North along the Pacific coast. It started pretty relaxing spending days crossing the Atacama desert where the BYB equipment served as great entertainment for the hitchhikers on the road.

Tag Team Presentation with Tim @ UDLA Maipú

Hitchhiker´s Guide to Neuroscience

Things started getting problematic when I arrived at the Peruvian border. I got the bad news that my vehicle wasn’t registered while leaving the country in 2013. After several days at customer services at different borders I was told that the police is allowed to take away ‘Brunhilde’ when entering Peru. Consequently I had either to leave behind my beloved Kombi or to turn around to the South. Having already planned my visits in Lima and Chiclayo, I decided to park my car in the Peruvian jungle and to return to the backpacker life.

In Lima I was invited by David Chaupis to give a workshop in Henri Chispe’s cultural center ‘El Paradero’. At the same time this was the inauguration of the El Paradero laboratory, an open access space that enables scientists to give classes, presentations, and workshops. With the open laboratory ‘El Paradero’ gives scientists a platform to share their passion the same way as musicians can give concerts or artists can hold exhibitions. This mixture of professions leads to an extremely creative atmosphere which makes it possible to see the world from different perspectives.  

After a short introduction about action potentials, neuroprosthetics, brain waves and how the BYB equipment works, the participants could take their time to discover by their own the broad application spectrum of the DIY experimental devices. I would like to thank the whole ‘El Paradero’ team for their hospitality. Giving me insights to the Limean life and their function as a cultural center was very inspiring and we’ll see each other again.

My next stop was the city of friendship, Chiclayo, where I visited my friend Marlon Suarez with whom I studied Biology in Munich. With his help I was able to share my NeuroTour at the Universidad Nacional Pedro Ruiz Gallo (hosted by Prof. Pedro Chimoy) and the Universidad de Cajamarca. Once again, I was welcomed with open arms and experienced where Chiclayo got its nickname from. Sharing with the Peruvian costeños, I learned a lot about their culture, traditions and dances. Thanks a lot for everything.  

Spending the days in the Peruvian far North I once again realized how advantageous it would be for remote areas to have access to low-cost experimental science devices. Not only for educational purposes but also their potential use for hospitals and doctors in the countryside.

Moving on to Ecuador my worst case scenario happened as my laptop broke down. I had to skip the planned NeuroTour stop Quito and travelled to Bogotá, where I unsuccessfully tried to get my laptop repaired. In Colombia a chain of lucky coincidences brought me to William Omar Contreras Lopez (Young Neurosurgeon of the year 2015). He invited me to Bucaramanga where I could present my NeuroTour at the Simposio Regional de Neurociencia that was held on the development of new technologies in Neuroscience. Thanks for the invitation, which made it possible to share my experiences with young motivated scientists (click here or here for video) and might be the start of future collaborations using the BYB equipment as Brain-Computer and/or Human-Machine Interfaces.

After nearly 15,000km travelling in South America I decided to slowly plan route to Europe. I will return to Lima for two weeks and then visit Machu Picchu with my mom. After that I will try to ship ‘Brunhilde’ down the Amazon and across the Atlantic Ocean. I am happy for any advice or help. Luckily my BYB equipment is still working, so don’t worry, this is not the end of the BYB World Tour.

Love and Kisses. ÉT

BYB World Neuro Tour Part III – from Patagonia up north the Panamericana

It’s ET again with some updates to the BYB World Neuro Tour. Arriving in Rio de Janeiro, my friend Geo and I travelled down the Atlantic coast to spread the word of Neuroscience (for details see: or here). In Montevideo we decided to buy a VW Kombi, named her ‘Brunhilde’, and wanted to find our way quickly to Patagonia. Unfortunately, the long buying process and a friend’s visit from Germany forced us to separate in Montevideo. Waiting for ‘Brunhilde’ I used the time to visited a team of doctors at the Hospital de Clinicas where we were able to detect uterine contractions with the EMG Spiker shield in a pregnant woman.Moreover, I was invited to set up a stand at the Brain Week of Montevideo where kids enthusiastically used the BYB equipment. Special thanks to Sofia Letaief, Alejandra Mondino, and Prof. Jose Diaz.

Once allowed to leave Uruguay we arrived quickly at the Peninsula Valdes, where Brunhilde decided to take off one of her wheels. Stuck in the middle of nowhere I was adopted by the local park rangers as heavy rains blocked the routes. After many days in the Peninsula without signal we were able to repair the Kombi and a cascade of happy coincidences directed me to Mirta Anton. Together we organized the first of three ‘conferencias’ in Trelew. Thanks to her help the ‘conferencia’ was advertised and hosted by the local newspaper El Chubut (see here). Additionally, she made it possible that the NeuroTour will appear in a TV documentary of the Channel 12 called ‘Nueva Mirada’ in July. After this first stop in Patagonia we headed in direction Cordillera with two more ‘conferencias’ in Esquel and El Bolson. Special thanks to Andres Barcena and Alumine Honik who organized these events!

The three Patagonian conferencias with their spiritual minded attendants highlighted interesting aspects and applications of the BYB equipment. First, the necessity and power of the intention revealed by the Human-Human-Interface, where the controller has to perform the action willingly. Second, the possibility to control your heart rate in the ECG experiment via respiratory exercises. Third, the built-in alpha-wave amplitude to sound conversion of the EEG experiment can be used to increase your meditation performance. This is also called biofeedback therapy and is often used to help patients with neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

Finally, I would like to thank all Patagonians that supported and helped me during my stay in that incredibly beautiful region. Now, I’m heading up north along the Panamericana to visit BYB co-founder Tim in Santiago.

Buenos Aires – The Latest Stop on The BYB World NeuroTour

Hey hey! It’s Etienne Serbe again, with an update on BYB World NeuroTour! You’ve seen us in Germany, Portugal, and Brazil (see here and here). Now we’ve move onto Sao Paolo, Florianopolis, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires. We work with Universities on how to improve common neuroscience knowledge. We also spread the word outside of academia. In this case, the backyard (true to the Backyard Brains style) of a hostel in Sao Paulo and a home in Montevideo!

Scientists tend to drift into their ‘Science Bubble’. They miss chances to share their work with peers and the unaware but deserving populace. Yet, if you devise a way to make it easy for them to understand and relate with empathy, their interest will follow.

‘Small Talk’ at random places can often turn into spontaneous EMG demonstrations

We experience a large general interest in our audience about neuroscience, but spreading engagement is not always an easy task, as neuroscience is a complicated subject which is perceived as very difficult to understand. The lack of education combined with popular myths (such as “we only use 20% of our brain”) are some of the many challenges we face as neuroscience educators. With these misconceptions, people tend to conclude neuroscience as daunting and thus unapproachable. To tackle this, we at Backyard Brains and the BYB World NeuroTour have used engaging techniques with demos, illustrations, and an open environment to discuss neuroscience.

Here, I want to highlight two occasions on the NeuroTour where we most recently brought neuroscience to the public. The first was a spontaneous ‘Arte meets Science’ session in the backyard of a hostel in Sao Paolo. We taught neuroscientific principles to the hostel crowd, most of whom had little neuroscience education. In the end, everyone understood how neural potential changes evoke, display, and send messages!

The second was an event called ‘Action Potentials Served for Dessert’ in Montevideo. After having dinner with our lovely hosts, we gathered once again to try to understand action potentials. We demonstrated the human-human interface and tried to find alternative movements that could be evoked by it, rather than the standard wrist movement. We also looked at potential use of a EEG headband that detects blinking (see the tutorial for the Electrooculogram).

We had a great time with new friends of all nationalities, ages, and professions. Welcomed with open arms, we received a lot of help to conduct our outreach and travels. And in return, what we provide all comes back to a familiar mission:

‘Neuroscience for Everyone!’

So don’t forget: share your work! Improve interdisciplinary communication and access to neuroscience everywhere.
Onto the next stop! The Backyard Brains Bus will carry us to Patagonia then to Santiago de Chile. We’ll check back in soon! Stay tuned.