Over a dozen busy bees, 5 research projects, 4 hot weeks of July, countless data, iterations and coffee cups, one book of experiments to soak it all up and present to the wider audience — and the Backyard Brains 2023 US-Serbian Summer Research Fellowship rounds off. The result will hit the shelves this fall, with the new, Serbian edition of our book “How Your Brain Works” containing brand new experiments that our team started working on.
But if you expect to see a bunch of cockroaches, worms, moths and bees and other invertebrates buzzing around Belgrade’s Center for Promotion of Science lab makerspace where we spent the month, you’re in for a surprise. This time, we ventured into two completely different, even opposite realms, hoping to eventually tie them together. One is the realm of single-celled creatures who don’t seem to be hindered or bothered by their lack of brain. The other lies behind our all-powerful brain and borders on philosophy of awareness. What is consciousness and attention? How do we think what reality is — and how do we share it with others? Finally, is there a way for these two realms to inform and complement each other?
This year’s cohort was small but diverse, composed of three undergrads who flew in from the University of Michigan and four Serbian undergrads from the Universities of Belgrade and Novi Sad. One of the greatest values was the wide variety of backgrounds that came together: from neuroscience to electrical engineering, psychology, molecular biology and computer science.
When we think about science and technology, we often think about something intricate and sophisticated to comprehend, such as genetic engineering or aerospace astrophysical technology.
However, science and technology are a pivotal part of our mundane life. From us turning off the lights and going to bed at night to curing cancers or genetic disorders, they are all science and technology. We achieved a convenience that might appear to be trivial, and also something that used to deem as a miracle from numerous works and questions of scientists and engineers.
My ceaseless passion for science came from my ignorance of underlying principles; how my body functions, how we get diseases, how we cure them, how we optimize human efficiency, and how we increase the accuracy of data collection. And that is how my endless love for biology and computer science started. My project started from a similar question about the rudimentary concept: attention schema theory, which is elusive and intangible. (See my introductory note here.)
Since the brain is an information-processing device, it has a limitation in processing multiple sources of information. In this project, we investigated attention (visual, primarily) and awareness.
The significance of understanding human consciousness can be also expanded to treatment research and AI research (its consciousness). Linked internal models, cognitive machinery, and the self having a mental possession of the outside objects would be a critical component of awareness. Is it hard to understand? Don’t worry. There are games for it.
My plan is to create a do-it-yourself (DIY) eye tracker to investigate the hypothesis that humans, having evolved to focus on eyes, spend more time looking at the eyes compared to other facial features.
This eye tracker will be designed using open-source software, and my ultimate goal is to make it accessible to the general public. By developing this DIY eye tracker, the aim is to provide a tool that enables individuals to conduct their own experiments and gather data to explore the hypothesis further. After finishing this web-based app, I will continue working on more web-based applications to expound attention schema more intuitively: reaction time measurements and eye beam measurement. It is intriguing since it can help everybody understand the basic human information processing mechanism using games.