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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.

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New Edition of “How Your Brain Works” at Brain Awareness Week 2024

Backyard Brains in Serbia - Brain Awareness Week 2024

Schools, museums, libraries, community centers and other public venues in over 75 countries— last week, the entire planet was firing spikes in honor of the brain during Brain Awareness Week 2024! An annual event organized and partly funded by Dana Foundation and International Brain Research Organization (IBRO), it’s the biggest joint scientific outreach in the world whose goal is to get more people to think, talk, make, partake in experiments and get generally excited about the brain.

And just like every previous year, we were part of it too, personally or in spirit through our gear! This time around, our SpikerBoxes have conquered five countries (that we know of): from our own to Canada, the UK, Serbia and Austria.

But the Serbian high school teachers and students were in for a special treat.

“How Your Brain Works” Now Speaks Serbian Too

"How Your Brain Works" Serbian edition

After Spanish and Italian editions, our book “How Your Brain Works” (MIT Press, 2022) got its first expanded edition. The good news is, there are several more experiments that we worked on with our fellows since the 2023 Summer Research Fellowship. The bad news, the book is in Serbian, so the new experiments aren’t available to our US audience for the time being! We hereby extend our gratitude to Nordeus Foundation, Center for Promotion of Science and the US Embassy in Serbia, who have made it all possible.

But the book launch, several workshops and media appearances weren’t the only way we popularized neuroscience in Serbia. We also donated neuroscience combos (the book + Neuron SpikerBox Pro + Human SpikerBoxO) to 23 schools around the country. These schools are now joining the ranks with a couple Serbian universities, two primary schools and a grammar school that have already received our gear over the past years. It will translate to thousands of students getting a chance to do hands-on neuroscience in the classroom!

More BYB Neuroscience at Brain Awareness Week 2024

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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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