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Neuroscience for Everyone!

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Leadership Initiatives Youth Development Program Features a Week Dedicated to Neuroscience!

The Leadership Initiatives Advanced Medical Neuroscience Summit is a program that’s available for rising freshmen in high school to rising freshmen in college that gives students the opportunity to live for a short time at a college campus (Gorgeous Georgetown), attend lectures and learn from neuroscience professors, tour high-tech labs, and perform hands-on research. This is our kind of student summer gig!

Backyard Brains and the Leadership Initiatives program have a shared interest in exposing students to real neuroscience at an early age, while simultaneously doing everything in our power to help those students “self-visualize” as neuroscientists themselves! It’s this kind of work that will help to inspire the next generation of creative thinkers and neuroscientists.

We talked to one of the organizers, Morgan Biele, about this year’s experience. Morgan is a past attendee of the program and was excited to share how this summer’s Neuroscience Summit went.

“Over the course of the week, students were visiting labs and listening to lectures from expert neuroscientists. I’d recommend watching the video we produced to learn all about the program!

Students at the Leadership Initiatives Medical Neuroscience Summit wowed by DIY hands-on neuroscience – in this photo a Human-Cockroach Interface!

“During our summit, students used several muscle SpikerBoxes, Human-Human Interface kits, and RoboRoach kits; the students absolutely loved learning with them. They had been in awe at the high-tech tools the professors and researchers used, but the Backyard Brains equipment really made neuroscience experimentation feel accessible to them.

Selfies with the invertebrate neuroscience star Blaberus discoidalis!

“The students were completely fascinated. We noticed that the hands-on activities are invaluable for maintaining student engagement and curiosity, so we’d love to consider integrating more of that accessible technology into our programs.”

Medical Neuroscience Students pose with their very own Cyborg RoboRoaches!

I asked Morgan about how Backyard Brains was discovered by the program. She laughed, and explained how she had used Backyard Brains kits in school and knew they had to include them in the summer program, saying,
“We’re proud to have Backyard Brains equipment in the program and displayed on the website for Leadership Initiatives.” She had been introduced by her biology teacher, and even competed in Science Fair with a poster project performed with our Heart and Brain SpikerBox.

She wrote, “I believe you mentioned being curious about seeing a science fair project I completed with Backyard Brains too, so I’ve attached my science fair project poster (this was my first one, and I’ve noticed many flaws in hindsight just to inform you! Also, my hypothesis wasn’t supported, so maybe it isn’t very valuable…!)”

Recording the electricity of the brain… for a high school science fair project! The future is now.

We loved this poster at the office, and think that Morgan’s concern that her hypothesis wasn’t supported is one that many students share. But that’s science! It’s okay if your project doesn’t prove your expectations, in fact sometimes it’s just as fascinating when it doesn’t.

Students are skeptical about being able to control a cockroach leg with their muscles…
But by hooking up the Muscle SpikerBox Pro with a Stimulation Cable to a cockroach leg…
They can see it dance and move!

Be on the lookout for more collaborations between Backyard Brains and the Leadership Initiatives Medical Neuroscience Summit in the future!

For now, I can say this: Teachers, this is a fantastic opportunity for your students! There are costs associated with attending, but there are scholarships and information for helping make it very affordable on their website.

Learning by Doing: Teach Reiterative Design with Neuroprosthetics

Failure is an important part of the
Reiterative Design Process!

For some students, dealing with failure can be tough. It’s frustrating to encounter obstacles in science! And for teachers – how do you grade a project when a student puts a lot of effort in, but keeps hitting roadblocks?

Many of you already teach like this, but I wanted to share my own recent example of the Reiterative Design Process. Very few things turn out perfect on your first attempt (like the Orange Chicken I attempted to make last night… Not enough sugar?) and require you to learn from several failures or mistakes.

Many students we are working with now are excited about the growing field of DIY Neuroprosthetics, so to help guide students along in their journey, I’ve been working on creating my own prosthetic hands using materials that are accessible to many Middle and High School students!

Three Generations of NeuroProsthetics

From left to right, you can see that in just three different build models, my design came a long way…

Alma Schools High School Students Present Research on the Reaction Times of Distracted Drivers

This year, we were excited to release two new kits in concert with our Muscle SpikerBox Pro, kits that are designed to help capture very precise data about reflexes (The Reflex Hammer) and reactions (The Reaction Timer). It didn’t take long for students to start getting their hands on these tools, and we are excited today to present the results of one classroom’s research which was enabled by these tools!

Juli D. and her Anatomy and Physiology class were interested in studying reactions and reflexes, first by studying reaction times in “distracted driving” scenarios, and then by coming up with experimental procedures to see what variables may affect reflexes.

Juli shared a lot of pictures and information about her and her students’ work this summer, made possible by a Michigan education grant from Tri-County Electric! From Juli:

“Tri-County Electric offered us a grant of $2000 to purchase muscle spiker boxes and reaction timers. The purpose was to have students develop a lab that would test how reaction times change with distractions while driving. Backyard Brains graciously worked with us through some kinks and even supplied us with new equipment to expand our research into how reflexes change with different temperatures.

Students experimenting with the Muscle SpikerBox Pro and Reaction Timer