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Free NeuroRobots Teacher Workshop for Michiganders: Grab Your Spot Today!

neurorobots teacher workshop

It spins, wiggles or beeps when it detects certain colors and shapes. It chases or runs away from objects. It learns and solves problems, and does it all much like your own brain: thanks to neural networks comprising of neurons, synapses and an occasional shot of dopamine to reinforce this or that behavior. High school teachers of Michigan, say hello to the NeuroRobot (a.k.a. the SpikerBot)!

This little guy has been in the works for some time now, so you’ll get to test it along with a corresponding curriculum in a free 6.5-hour professional development workshop on Saturday, May 25, 2024, at the Michigan Science Center in Detroit. Then, you’ll be able to bring the curriculum back into your classroom and implement it! We already ran this workshop in NYC earlier this year, with 30 NeuroRobots scampering off to the classrooms and a big waiting list as a result. Our point? Space is limited and it’s first come, first served, so you’ll want to secure your spot as quickly as possible.

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

high schoolers from chile doing plant experiments
The students doing the experiments. Photos by Abraham Martínez Gutiérrez, official photographer of the high school.

— Written by Tim Marzullo —

In an article we previously published in June 2022 about our scientific paper that dealt with play behavior in fish, I concluded at the end of the article:

I think it is possible for novices and high school students to publish papers (and it is the dream and goal of our team)… That is why we are planning an experiment. We want to publish with a school in Santiago, Chile, collaborating with second and third year high school students. We are collecting data on electrical signals in plants… If it works, we will tell you…

Dear readers, 21 months after writing this, the day has arrived. We did it! Our paper recently appeared in the academic journal “Plant Signaling and Behavior” about our experiments in electrophysiology in plants, with 5 high school students as the first authors. You can read the paper here.

A library of electrophysiological responses in plants - a model of transversal education and open science
The beginning of the published paper, with high school students in the front line

Electrical signals in plants? What? Yes, it is understudied and often misunderstood, but plants do have signals similar to the electrical signals we have in our hearts, muscles, and brain. However, they are much slower (1,000-15,000 times slower). But what are they for? In the famous examples of the venus flytrap and the sensitive mimosa, the electrical signals coordinate their fast movements, but electrical signals also exist in plants that do not move quickly, such as tomatoes, chili peppers, basil, etc.

One of the functions of electrical signals in plants is as an alarm signal. For example, if a herbivore is eating a plant, an electrical signal passes through the branches saying “we are under attack” and the plant can synthesize bitter compounds so that the leaves taste bitter. A plant cannot escape when under attack, and it has the problem that it is “stuck in place forever” (i.e., it cannot run away from a threat, or fight physically), but there are protection systems and defenses (thorns, poisons, production of bitter compounds, etc.).

Dear reader, the day has arrived. We did it! Our paper about our experiments in electrophysiology in plants recently appeared in the academic journal “Plant Signaling and Behavior,” with 5 high school students as the first authors.

As electrophysiology in plants is understudied, we wanted to further investigate electrical signals in plants that do not necessarily move rapidly. And with that idea, we began to work on an ambitious project with the (high school) Colegio Alberto Blest Gana (CABG) in San Ramón, Santiago.

But before discussing the results, we must give a little more context about the scientific publication process.

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Update: Chilean Internship Plant Conduction Velocity Project Summary y Adiós (Por Ahora)

Global meeting. Me (upper left – Chile), Étienne (scientific advisor – upper right – Germany), Patricio (my undergraduate thesis advisor (lower left – Chile), and Tim (my supervisor at Backyard Brains – South Korea). These are our thinking faces, not our mad faces.

— Written by Carla Contreras Mena —

Hello! Carla Contreras Mena from Santiago, Chile, here again. Welcome to the conclusion of my work during my internship with Backyard Brains.

Experiment Update

In the last few months, I’ve had to study more about plants. Why? Because, In my daily life in the laboratory, I’m not very familiar with the chemistry of plants, how to take care of them, and other characteristics. But, it’s always very interesting to learn new things.

Maybe you remember this picture from the last blog (“Backyard Brains welcomes newest Chilean Intern: Conduction Velocity in Different Plants”):

Carla's plants

Why am I reminding you? My home garden currently looks a bit different: More plants, and they grew!

Carla's plants update: they grew!

In Chile during this time of the year it’s summer, although during January the temperatures went up a lot. This caused the plants to have a hard time, however, many of them survived and are still giving a lot of data (at least).

The current plants are Chilean Chile, Ornamental Chile, Basil, Creeping Inchplant, Argentian Dollar, Hierba Buena, Mint, Rosemary, Ruda, Tomato, and the Venus Flytrap. You can see my numbers breakdown below, lots of recordings: 192!

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