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Backyard Brains Welcomes Newest Chilean Intern: Conduction Velocity in Different Plants

conduction velocity in different plants
Tim and I talking about our experiments at the Peruvian Restaurant “Ajicito” over Ceviche, Maracuya juice and pisco sour

— Written by Carla Contreras Mena —

Hello, I’m Carla Contreras Mena, a student of Biochemistry at the University of Santiago of Chile (which we locally call Usach). I currently work in a Neuroscience Laboratory with professor Dr. Patricio Rojas, where we are investigating the neurophysiological difference of electrical activity in the mouse hippocampus between a control and a model of autism. Here is a picture of my research:

mouse hippocampus

Section of the hippocampus, specifically in the dentate gyrus of a C57BL/6 strain mouse; E = stimulating electrode; R = recording electrode

In search of an internship for my degree, my professor recommended Backyard Brains. In my first meeting with Backyard Brains, I listened a bit about this interesting way to learn electrophysiology in plants and how a simplified amplifier works to learn and teach at the same time.

I decided to learn more about it, so I accepted the offer letter!

First Steps

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High Schooler Becomes Educator: Young Fencer’s Neuro-Revolution Goes International

High schooler brings neuroscience to a fencing tournament in Paris.
Neurofencing in Paris. (All photos Supriya Nair)

[Updated February 2024]

There’s one thing that beats inspiring kids to take up neuroscience: Watching them not only catch the spark but pass it along! High schooler Supriya Nair is our case in point. Through scientific outreach using our SpikerBox, she has already ignited the interest of hundreds of her peers who got to see and feel the power of action potentials for the first time.

Her latest outreach triumph happened just this month at the 2024 Marathon Foils Tournament in Paris! There, she sparked the NeuroRevolution in dozens of young fencers from France, Italy, Germany, UK and other parts of the globe.

The reception in Paris was warm, and there was quite a lot to be learned too. “Most of my fellow fencers at the event were impressed with the data behind the adage that warming up is good,” Supriya tells us. “When we discussed a reduction of over 50 milliseconds in a 6ft lunge, there was a lot of excitement and cheering. I was humbled and really appreciated their time, everyone of the fencers from these countries were friendly, receptive and welcoming.”

Neuroscience workshop on a fencing tournament in Paris

The young neurofencer thus kick-started a string of international appearances where she is to empower fellow athletes to take up science and use it to level up their performance on the piste. And it’s not just fencers who may get interested in neuroscience. It’s also the other way round, as she’s about to prove in her next workshop in July, on the sidelines of Japan’s biggest annual neuroscience conference Neuro2024!

She has conquered much of America too, conducting upwards of 15 neurofencing workshops in California, Oregon, Arizona, Minnesota and at the SfN 2023 in Washington, D.C., where we met her in person.

Neurofencing at SfN 2023: High Schooler Becomes Educator
Supriya Nair with BYB co-founders Tim Marzullo and Greg Gage at SfN 2023

Quite a meeting it was, and not just because we love cake! It was the annual Society for Neuroscience conference with over 25,000 attendees where she got to present her neurofencing poster in front of PhDs and postdocs.

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BYB Debunks Jeopardy and Un-Debunks Luigi Galvani

Written by Tim Marzullo

Jeopardy is an American institution, and we have fond memories of watching their episodes with our families during our youth. We still watch reruns to relax, and recently something caught our eye. While watching episode 8364, which originally played on March 21, 2021 (Season 37) with guest host Dr. Mehmet Oz and contestants Amal Dorai, Doug Small (local shout-out, from nearby Ypsilanti), and Lisa O’Brien, we were intrigued by the final Jeopardy category: “Literary Inspirations.” Interesting, what could it be? You can imagine our delight when this was the clue.

Jeopardy Luigi Galvani

Of course, we at Backyard Brains know this answer, having written three experiments/histories on our website about our hero Luigi Galvani:

  1. The Dancing Cockroach Leg
  2. The Galvani/Volta Debate
  3. In Search of the Spike
Jeopardy: What is Frankenstein?

The answer is, of course, the compelling novel that birthed the genre of science fiction, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.” Shelley was indeed inspired by Galvani’s experiments, even famously mentioning “Galvanism” in her preface to the novel: “Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things.” If you haven’t read it, we highly recommend it. The book is often misquoted in contemporary society. No spoilers, but you will understand why. Also, feel guilty that you did invent a whole new genre of literature when you were 19 (yes, that’s how old she was when she finished the book).

However, we visibly winced at the mention of the word “debunked.” Luigi Galvani debunked! Quite the contrary.

Galvani vs. Volta debate illustrated by Backyard Brains

But wait, there’s more! When the first contestant answered correctly (pictured above), Dr. Oz responded “Correct! It is an interesting story actually, because he thought electricity was the source of all life. Volta proved him wrong, but the legend persisted.”

It is indeed an interesting story, but we are not going to let Volta continue to get the last word.

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