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2023 Summer US-Serbian Research Fellowship Concludes: New Experiments in the Works!

2023 research fellowship concludes

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?

backyard brains 2023 research fellowship in cpn makerspace
Helping hand just got a whole new meaning.

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.


Back to the Fun-gi: What Mushroom Action Potentials Have Taught Us

— Written by Luka Caric, Elsa Fedrigolli & Tom DesRosiers

Prepare yourselves for another round of mushroom-tastic journey as we delve into the captivating world of electrical potentials in mushrooms. Join us as we unfold the shocking truths, sprinkle in some mushroom humor, and discover the electrifying mysteries hidden within these fantastic fungi!

In our quest for mushroom marvels (as recounted in our introductory blog post), our team, “The Fungi Fanatics,” welcomed a “shocking” new member – Luka, an electrical engineer from the University of Belgrade. With his vast knowledge and electrifying chess skills (pun intended!), Luka was the perfect addition to tackle our electrical challenges and amplify our experiments to the next level!

Our first hurdle came in the form of a pesky amplifier problem. But fear not, for Luka was here to save the day with an ingenious solution. With each spark of brilliance, he conjured up new ways to amplify those elusive electrical signals from our mushroom friends, making us wonder if he had a secret stash of “electric mushrooms” up his sleeve!

Luka’s creativity knew no bounds! He cooked up a “mushroom square wave” that slowly charged and discharged through a capacitor, mimicking the mystical behavior of real mushrooms’ electrical potentials. It was a fungi-tastic idea that became our electrifying benchmark – our guiding light through the mushroom labyrinth.

Oh, the wonders of mushrooms – magical, but as fleeting as a lightning bolt! No matter how much we coaxed or begged, these fungi had their own schedule. Just like the fleeting sparks of an electrical storm, their fruiting bodies lasted for a mere 2-3 days. They left us yearning for more recordings, teasing us like elusive little lightning bugs!

In our pursuit of electrifying knowledge, we couldn’t resist an encounter with slime mold – the “mushroom-protist hybrid”, which also created a crossover between our project and the slime mold project of the fellowship! However, whenever we placed electrodes into the slime and into the mold – the mold would just move away from our electrode. How rude of them!


Fungi With a Spark: Exploring the Electrical Signals of Pink Oysters

measuring electrical signals of pink oysters

— Written by Tom DesRosiers, Elsa Fedrigolli & Luka Caric —

As the only fully equipped team, our week started off strong with an advantage compared to the others.

On the first few days, our brains were fried and it was difficult to get started. But by the end of the first week we were tripping with excitement (see what I did there!) about the ideas that we came up with regarding our mushroom experiment. Our project is taking a look at the electric potential in pink oyster mushrooms, and what sorts of stimuli provoke a response. Some of the stimuli may even end the mushroom’s life. But hey, that’s better for us we get to eat it after! This topic hasn’t been explored as deeply as it should have been, but this gives us an amazing opportunity to fill the gaps of science. 

Our entire project is based on Andrew Adamatzky’s paper “On spiking behavior of oyster fungi Pleurotus djamor,” where the author recorded spontaneous high- and low-frequency electrical potentials in fungi. Spontaneous in this context refers to a response in the absence of stimuli. The high- and low-frequency potentials mean the amount of spikes that were recorded per minute (2.6 min for high-frequency and 14 min for low-frequency spikes), as well as their amplitude. (0.88 mV for high-frequency, 1.3 mV for low-frequency). This is a very exciting finding, which we will also be testing in our experiments.