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Can Neuroscience Help You Fence Better? Middle-School Scientist Wins State Science Fair Using SpikerBox

can neuroscience help you fence better
Supriya and Sujit Nair establishing a new fencing technique: Neurofencing

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: 

  1. sport a set of electrodes of a Neuron SpikerBox to capture an EMG signal from her right hand and right leg as she lunges,
  2. 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.

Supriya Nair Applying Neuroscience to Assess Fatigue and Optimize Performance for Young Fencers - Can Neuroscience Help You Fence Better?
Slide from Supriya’s award-winning work titled “Applying Neuroscience to Assess Fatigue and Optimize Performance for Young Fencers”

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!


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)

Students learn Neural Engineering at University of Michigan’s “Xplore Engineering” camp

We visited University of Michigan’s campus during their annual “Xplore Engineering” camp. This multi-day event brings grandparents, parents, and their young scientists from all across the country to lovely summer Ann Arbor for a few days of science and engineering experiential opportunities.

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