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DIY Neuroscience and AI for All – Virtual Workshop by IBRO-LARC/PEDECIBA

diy neuroscience and ai for all workshop

Who says that hands-on approach doesn’t work in virtual space? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: science is doable, DIY-able, interactive, and it works online just as efficiently as it does in person!

Back in August 2020, the IBRO-LARC/PEDECIBA* “DIY Neuroscience and AI for all” workshop showed that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have to stand in the way of hands-on neuroscience. BYB founders, Drs. Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, who also took part in the project, tell us that student attendants from Uruguay, Argentina, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Peru were super engaged and motivated. “I had concerns about a virtual conference at first, but all fears were put to rest once seeing it play out. The discussion, questions and feedback during my lecture was better than in-person,” says Greg.

In his lecture aptly titled “Neuroscience tools for the 99%”, he recounted the humble, bohemian beginnings of Backyard Brains over a decade ago, when he and Tim invented a $100 spike in their dorm room. Building a contraption from scratch and pitching the idea to the scientific community and the public are two different things, so they came up with a satirical narrative about a zombie apocalypse to attract people to their booth at the Society for Neuroscience conference. The rest is history!

In one of his two presentations (which, alas, aren’t available in English), Tim discussed open-source philosophy and ways to make your own lab at home. Hablas Español, anyone? In case you do, here is the video. (If you take notes in English, do send them over!)

Tim also demonstrated the Venus Flytrap experiment featuring our good old friend, the Plant SpikerBox, to show a very unique talent that some plants developed: the ability to count, calculate and anticipate. Heart & Brain SpikerBox also made an appearance.

María Castelló (Clemente Estable Biological Research Institute), who organized and coordinated the event, confirms that the program was successful and productive, despite the lack of in-person dimension. “Three of the students groups not only prepared their reports but also send manuscripts for publication in an Uruguayan journal for teachers from the Biology Department of the National Administration of Public Education,” Maria told us.

*IBRO (International Brain Research Organization) is an international federation of scientific organizations. It was founded back in 1961 with the mission to promote neuroscience accross the world and foster collaboration between individual researchers as well as scientific communities. IBRO’s LARC (Latin America Regional Committee) is one of their six regional branches spreading accross the continents. PEDECIBA (Basic Sciences Development Program) is Uruguay’s national interdisciplinary program that fosters scientific research as part of the United Nations Development Progoramme (UNDP).


Teachers Gets a $1,000 Award in BYB Research Kits from Society for Science & the Public

BYB Research Kits for distance learning
Neuron SpikerBox

Distance learning just got a lot easier for the 7th grade students of Abington Avenue School (Newark, NJ)! Their teacher Khalil Gordon has recently won $1,000 in Neuron SpikerBox Bundles. More precisely, they will get 13 of BYB research kits that they can use for project-based science learning from the comfort of their PJs!

The funding is part of Society for Science & the Public’s STEM Research Grants totaling $100,000, awarded to 100 middle and high school teachers from all across the U.S. They put special emphasis on schools in underserved and underrepresented communities.

This year, the program was geared toward distance learning, striving to provide teachers with resources and tools that facilitate hands-on science labs that students can do at home. As we’ve already written, a Harvard study has shown how well our bioamplifiers perform in student dorms, living rooms, bedrooms, or just about anywhere.

Neuron SpikerBox and other standards-aligned Remote Labs lie at the intersection of various nerdy disciplines such as biology, electrophysiology, computer science. They are already in use in hundreds of U.S. schools, colleges and other institutions – from elementary to higher education. The tweets speak for themselves!

Congrats to Mr. Gordon! We’re looking forward to hearing about his students’ scientific discoveries in the classroom – be it remote, in-person, or hybrid. (We can already see the working title of a student project: “The day I got kicked by a cockroach leg.”)

Are there any other teacher grants?

Over the year, there are many national and local grants for individuals, schools, and school districts. However, most funding cycles are now over, so we’ll drop just a few that you may still apply for. Heed the deadlines though – the clock is ticking!

  • Donors Choose Grant (public fundraising opportunity) – no deadline, just pitch well and apply anytime
  • Fund for Teachers (up to $5,000 for individuals or $10,000 for teams; to be used on customizable professional development) – the deadline is January 21st, 2020
  • The NEA Foundation Learning & Leadership Grants (up to $5,000 for educators who are NEA members; to be used for professional development) – the next deadline is February 28th, 2020
  • McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment Grants (up to $10,000 per year, maximum of $30,000 over three consecutive years; to be used on projects that supplement classroom curriculum or afterschool activities for students from low-income households) – application from January 15th to April 15th or until they reach 350 submissions
  • Walmart Local Community Grants (up to $5,000 in classroom resources or equipment for K-12 schools) – the application deadline for this cycle is December 31st, 2020
  • AIAA Foundation Classroom Grant (up to $500 for K-12 teachers to be used on classroom STEM equipment, tools, supplies with an emphasis on aerospace) – the application deadline is January 15th, 2021
  • Honda Community Grant (up to $75,000 per year for school districts, to be used on classroom equipment or curriculum) – next deadline for new organizations is February 1st, 2021
  • Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Initiative (up to $10,000 for high-school teams of teachers and students who need to deploy their STEM expertise to solve a real-life problem with a technological innovation; to be used on related research, materials, and learning experience) – the initial application deadline is June 4th, 2021
  • NSF Special Programs for K-12 Educators (various programs)

How to Get Reeled in By Neuroscience – a Mathematician’s Guide (Part I)

how to get reeled in by neuroscience

What lies at the intersection of math and medicine? Why many things, of course. Certainly more than could possibly fit into a blog post! But today, I am going to talk about the connection between brain function and numbers.

My name is Natalia Díaz and I am a student of Mathematical Engineering at the University of Santiago de Chile. Ever since I can remember, I have been tantalized by mathematics and medicine (especially brain function). The opportunity to mix both subjects finally arose when I entered college. That is how Neuroscience popped into my life!

To get my degree, I must complete my internship and my thesis. That’s how I started working with my mentors Dr. Patricio Rojas (University of Santiago) and Dr. Patricio Orio (University of Valparaíso). We are investigating, through numerical simulations, the effect of the electrical synapse topology between inhibitory neurons.

For this, we use a neural mathematical model of a mixed network of inhibitory and excitatory neurons of the cerebral cortex, and we study different types of topology (“all with all” or lattice style) of connection between inhibitory neurons characterizing the patterns obtained.

For example, the figure below shows a significant difference in network synchronization using different topologies. In the first yellowy-whitish graph, there is no gap junction (electrical synapse). The second shows a gap junction with a lattice topology, and in the last one we apply a gap junction with an all-to-all topology. To plot this, we use different values for the mean synaptic strength between excitatory neurons (mGsynE) and for the mean synaptic strength between inhibitory neurons (mGsynI). Lots of abbreviations, I know. But I promise they are fun!

neuroscience math medicine
The network synchronization using different topologies of connection between inhibitory neurons.

As I was researching internship opportunities, Dr. P. Rojas told me about Backyard Brains, a go-to company for those who want to tackle neuroscience through mathematics. As for my project, I will be working on our next generation interface products. Coding Neural Interfaces for beginners can be difficult to understand, so I’ll help make the interface by testing an Arduino library Backyard Brains has developed, seeing how easy it is to use, trying to “break” it, and improving the documentation on the library.

This way, someone using our Arduino -based products won’t have to start from scratch as they learn to control devices like robotics, computers, musical instruments, and video games with the signals of their bodies (EOG, EMG, EKG, and EEG). My project will last until the end of January, and depending on my time, I may roll up my sleeves and get into some Python data analysis programming, a long-standing data analysis dream for the Backyard Brains team.

In my spare time (before COVID), I used to travel to my mother’s house in Pichidegua (VI Region), where we’ve always got together as a family and had a good time, as you can see in the above photo. Yes, there are many of us – try to find me! But now due to the quarantine, I have only been in Santiago, which I also love because I can spend time with my boyfriend, Luis. He is very funny, and he’s also a mathematician.