Can Neuroscience Help You Fence Better? Middle-School Scientist Wins State Science Fair Using SpikerBox
Every fencer will hear it countless times: warm-ups are a MUST. Do them and they’ll bump up your performance. Skip them and you may end up hurting yourself.
But not every fencer will ask why! Supriya Nair, a busy sixth-grader from Redmond, WA, decided to conduct an experiment and find out what the correlation is between exercise and performance in her favorite sport. Where other people see a self-evident truth that doesn’t need any questioning, this scientifically-minded middle-schooler saw a hypothesis that she can poke through to test it, quantify it, and prove it!
And what better way to do that than to:
- sport a set of electrodes of a Neuron SpikerBox to capture an EMG signal from her right hand and right leg as she lunges,
- measure her muscles’ reaction time from rest to touche in controlled circumstances, with and without 15-minute warm-ups, and compare the findings.
The results came in and won her the First Place Trophy at the annual Washington State Science and Engineering Fair and a nomination for this year’s Broadcom Masters, STEM competition for the nation’s top talented middle-schoolers!
Neurofencing: How It All Began
“I’d always hear it from coaches that I needed to do pre-bout exercise. But there was no quantitative data that would support it, just qualitative. And frankly, I was not very disciplined in warm-ups,” Supriya told us in a Zoom interview. That’s how she came up with the idea to eavesdrop on her muscles’ electrical activity using the SpikerBox her dad got her, and measure it to see whether it adds up to the hypothesis. And boom! Pre-bout exercise lasting only 15 minutes can improve a fencer’s performance by a whopping 15%, she discovered.
More warm-ups for her, now that she has it in writing!
Supriya’s little brother Sujit, a resourceful fourth-grader who is into astrophysics, acted as one of her test subjects and helped her set up the experiment.
But how does a middle-schooler go from defining a problem to positing a hypothesis, to designing and conducting an experiment?
Supriya, who wants to be a neurologist when she grows up, got into neuroscience last year when she suddenly found herself with lots of time on her hands during distance learning. So this 12-year-old jumped straight into university-level neuroscience MOOCs from Unis of Harvard, Chicago, Emory and Duke.
But these courses and laurels are just the beginning of Supriya’s journey through the majestic world of action potentials. She and her brother are getting a new experiment underway to complement the former and examine what the muscles, brain AND heart do when you fence.
“Now that we saw what happens at a muscular scale when you fence, we want to see how busy the brain is. This time, we’ll work with flèche, which is a fencing move where you explode out and run into your opponent. But heart needs to be added into the equation too because if it doesn’t work properly, our muscles will get tired and experience peripheral fatigue. Our goal is to correlate these three – brain, heart and muscles – and see what links them together in fencing.”
(We’re not making this up – that’s really how she talks!)
Fingers crossed for Supriya and Sujit! We’ll revisit them in June to see what new scientific insights they can share with us. Stay tuned!