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Though She Be But Little, She Can Hack

Arushi (age 10) with her dragonfly bot at Elle Hacks 2020

What did you do with your weekends when you were 10 years old? We bet it wasn’t participate in a women-driven hackathon where you developed your own functioning neural robot! (We bet you wish you did, though.) Arushi Nath, age 10, recently participated in Elle Hacks 2020, an all-women hackathon hosted by York University in Canada. Arushi saw our DIY Neurosci TED episode and was fascinated by our findings about dragonflies, nature’s most accurate hunter, and she decided to make a bot that mimicked dragonfly behavior.

Arushi’s Dragonfly Bot

Dragonflies are highly accurate hunters due to their ability to sense their prey, using dedicated neurons on each side of its brain, and Arushi wanted to represent this sensing with her bot. Using an Arduino, mini servos, and a breadboard, Arushi devised a Dragonfly Bot that could sense light from either the left “eye” or right “eye” and stimulate corresponding outputs. In nature, these outputs would move the dragonfly left or right toward its target. In two days, Arushi was able to build and code a working robot that could simulate basic dragonfly visual processes!

Arushi isn’t the only one in her family that digs science, either. The Nath family from Toronto, Canada created their “maker-family enterprise” known as HotPopRobot in 2014 after they won a hackathon together. You can follow along with HotPopRobot on Twitter at @wonrobot, for more details about their events and projects (we will definitely be giving them a follow)! Arushi has been attending maker events since she was 5 years old, and she is thrilled to be able to participate all on her own now.

Arushi presenting her bot to the judges

It is wonderful that more and more events like Elle Hacks are popping up across the scientific community in recent years. Elle Hacks centers women in science, creating places for typically underrepresented individuals to develop their interests and foster connections, and they make it possible for girls like Arushi to get a head start on figuring out their passions.

At Backyard Brains, we are in the business of democratizing neuroscience, and we feel incredibly validated when our past projects inspire kids to take the initiative and grab the reins of their scientific future. We hope Arushi continues to hack her way into adulthood!

If you’re interested in more work with dragonflies, head to the inspiration for Arushi’s project: our 2017 summer fellow’s blog post about our non-invasive dragonfly visual recorder.

We love stories like this! Have your own? Email us with your hacks at hello@backyardbrains.com! We can’t wait to hear what you have discovered!


A Fun and Productive Teacher Training Workshop: These Teachers are Neuro-Nerds!

Following the previous success of our 3-day Teacher Training workshop at the end of the 2019 Calendar Year – we decided to kick-off 2020 with a free workshop for educators, open to all!

So we set a date… Jan 31st, shot out some emails, and hoped we wouldn’t be eating bagels and cream cheese alone in the office on the morning of the workshop! Far from alone, we had 10 passionate educators join us, from classroom teachers to curriculum designers and even graduate students involved in neuroscience outreach! Some came from local, Ann Arbor schools, and some drove much further, or even flew(!) to attend the event!

The day was booked well ahead of time. Our goal was to cover both intro and intermediate materials to enable these educators to improve how they teach both invertebrate and human physiology in their science outreach and in their STEM, Biology, and Neuroscience classes

Starting with some Invertebrate Physiology, the educators covered strategies for teaching science with Model Organisms, performed live neuron recordings from the cockroach leg prep, and practiced both introductory and advanced analytics approaches to better understand how the nervous system works and how we, as scientists, can begin quantifying electrical phenomena from within the nervous system.

Then we dove into some human physiology experiments, covering muscle activity, reflexes, and reaction times! These labs are quick and quantifiable, and the educators experience first-hand how they can be used to unpack a lot of big ideas in a short amount of time! For example, reactions and reflexes are different… but why? And a much broader question, how does “information” get from a to b? What is the speed(s) of information?

And of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without some hands-on time with the Human-Human Interface! This inspired shock, laughter, and intrigue from all the attendees. It really is an experience that needs to be felt to be believed.

Everyone agreed – it was a productive day! The educators responded that the material we covered would not only help them teach NEUROSCIENCE better, but it gave them strategies to teach SCIENCE better!

Our next opportunity for a shorter-form introductory training session is a February Webinar. Click this link or the image below to register, and keep an eye out on our blog for future opportunities!

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3-Day Teacher Workshop a Smashing Success!

Texas Teachers Brave Michigan Winter for Neuroscience Ed Workshop, and Love it!

Nine teachers from Texas join up with a few of us Neuroscience Education nerds in snowy Michigan… and holiday magic happens!

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