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!
Cats and dogs aren’t the only pets fond of chasing things that run away from them. Aquarium fish do it too, as shown in our new peer-reviewed paper that came out just last week in the “Animals” journal! Out of 66 fish species observed, nearly 90% showed interest in or set out to chase moving laser pointed dots.
Another reason for pride is the fact that this research adds another layer of proof to what we’ve been saying all along: (neuro)science doesn’t have to cost a fortune. This particular experiment only requires a couple of things that many people already have: a fish tank with some inhabitants (the more, the merrier!) and a laser pointer or two. Incredibly easy to replicate in, say, your biology classroom!