Second week of March is always a special time of year for brain buffs. That is when educators from around the world join in for neuroscience outreach in schools and local communities!
Money’s always scarce, but your organization doesn’t have to tap into its own funds. If you write up and submit a proposal within the next couple of weeks (through October 31), you may get up to $1,250 to fund your Brain Awareness Week (BAW) activities for next March. This year, the IBRO/Dana Foundation Grants Program was expanded by 60%, so your chances of winning are bigger than ever!
But where to begin? You don’t need to break your head over activity ideas. We have a lot of wildly popular, effective and customizable hands-on experiments that have already made many an appearance during previous BAWs. Or, if you prefer something new, you can always scour our blog for inspiration from our fellows and interns! All of our experiments were designed to be conducted in makeshift labs, classrooms or public spaces. Being attractive and appealing whether you’re reaching out to middle-schoolers, college students or the general public, they all stand for democratization of neuroscience.
But what if you can’t make the second week of March? No worries. You’re not in any way required to stick with the exact BAW dates (March 11-17, 2024), nor will it affect your chances of getting awarded. Do it whenever you want, as long as you use the official Brain Awareness Week branding.
5 Brain Awareness Week BYB Classics
The foremost reason why these experiments strike a chord with so many people is that they break down very complex and sophisticated concepts in a way that looks and feels lo-fi enough not to intimidate anyone. Being featured on TED doesn’t do them a disservice either!
Another reason why we chose them is that they don’t take a lot of time or equipment.
What does it take to achieve control over another person’s arm so that it moves because you wanted it to move? In its essence, this is an experiment in advanced neuroprosthetics that’s cooked up for audiences as young as 5th grade!
Backyard Brains has just added another feature to our ever longer list of media appearances! This time, our co-founder and CEO, Dr. Greg Gage, talked for The Gastronauts, Duke University’s monthly seminar and podcast series. This seminar is being organized by researchers passionate about gut-brain matters. But when one invites the driving force behind Backyard Brains, one has to squeeze in an occasional cockroach too!
“If I were God and wanted to make the perfect brain machine interface, I’d have made a cockroach,” says Greg in the podcast. Indeed, he adds, underneath a roach’s antenna, there’s a little tube where a wire fits perfectly.
But there’s more to our mission than creepy crawlies. This info doesn’t get heard every day: over 46,000 people have heard a spike for the very first time in their lives, using our DIY neuroscience gear. And this is just according to the cold, hard numbers that we have in writing. In reality, it probably never ever happened for a SpikerBox to be used by a single person. More often than not, our SpikerBoxes go to schools and research institutions where each of them gets to play spikes for years and generations, into many an curious ear. That could easily bump up the number to at least four or five the figure!
Our co-founder also talked about a variety of conceptual and engineering ideas and tips that came to us from high-schoolers who were using our gear in their school labs. For example, the cockroach-machine interface we made had a major flaw: before long, the cockroach would adapt to stimuli and just start living with it. Why not play music into it? Indeed, it worked up to a point. “But even more successful were little blinders that made them adapt slower as they couldn’t integrate other info that was coming – a brilliant idea that we never came up with! Then we implemented a randomization function into our stimulus,” Greg recalls.
There was also mention of our new book, which came as a culmination to our decade-long work on neuroscience experiments for everyone, but also some exciting new projects that are currently being cooked in the BYB kitchen.
So you can use a device to remote control a cockroach. Or another device to control a friend’s body by hooking up their arm with your brain’s electrical activity. But can you use this same device to control their body during a box match, all from a relative safety outside the ring?
This and many other questions were discussed in the podcast “Roll With the Punches,” in a dynamic exchange between the host Tiffanee Cook and our co-founder, Dr. Tim Marzullo. Tiff is a boxer, so her interest in using electrophysiology for remote punching an opponent is not surprising. But there were other topics too, all lined up and unravelled in a casual, non-nerdy way.
For example, why the heart isn’t part of our muscular system even though it is technically a muscle. Or whether human electrophysiology can be used to improve someone’s capacity to learn. Or how to muscle your way through a chromatic scale. Or play Super Mario Bros. without a controller, just flexing your arms to make him run left or right and blinking your eyes to have him jump! Of course, the question of fireballs remains to be solved. But as Tim concludes, you don’t need fireballs if you run and jump really well!