A pump made of two plastic syringes and a pushing block powered by a stepper motor, one of our Muscle SpikerShields and a 3D-printed base — that’s all that Kiley Branan, a high school senior from Indiana, needed to put together a prototype of a finger that you can open and close by flexing your arm.
If it sounds like a prosthetic device, it’s because that was what Kiley had originally intended it to be. But as she was figuring out the mechanics, the project evolved into a physical therapy tool that can’t replace a limb but can help people who were born without one or have had an amputation to learn kinesthetic and fine motor skills. It is customizable, easy to learn, and best of all — it’s very cheap. With high-tech bionic limbs often being prohibitively expensive, people should at least get a chance to adjust to them at a next-to-nothing cost.
So how exactly does it work? When you’re about to “tell” your muscles to move your limb, your brain sends electrical signals called action potentials to the spinal cord, which then passes on the message to your muscles via motor neurons. But what happens if a person is missing the limb? The message is still being transmitted. What’s missing, apart from the recipient limb, is something to “intercept” the message, gauge and interpret it.
That’s where Kiley’s device comes in. “It detects the nerve signals in the arm when they tell the muscle to move, and then tells the coded computer to push the syringes forward or backward so that they can move the finger. So the device helps detect something that already exists in a person who doesn’t have a finger,” the 18-year-old tells us over Zoom. The device would be helpful on two levels. On the one hand, it would allow for better fine-tuning and customization of the prosthetic limb before it gets made. On the other, it would prepare the person and improve their fine motor skills before they receive their first prosthetic. In a nutshell, Kiley says, it would “make the transition from living without a limb to using a prosthetic as seamless as possible.”
Many a high schooler has won a science fair or two using our neuroscience gear. But this science fair season, we decided to support the next generation of scientific innovators in a slightly different way: by donating prizes to the top projects at the Larchmont Charter High School Science Fair in Los Angeles!
This event is their science department’s biggest sci-comm gathering of the year, where students in grades 9-12 showcase their best models, experiments, and inventions. The range of projects on display was impressive: from greenhouse effect simulations to the impact of global warming on agriculture, holographic projectors, the development of a recycled plastic wood alternative construction material, and even a colony on Mars.
And the victors? Well, they’re nothing short of impressive. Two of them, Owen Fishman and Reese Fishman, won the top prize for developing a biodegradable straw and conducting an experiment to test its rate of breakdown under various conditions. Not only is their project a nod to the importance of sustainability, but it’s also a great reminder of how science helps solve real-life problems. And now they’ll get to try their hands at DIY neuroscience with the SpikerBox, the Claw, and the SpikerShield! Other prizes were donated by Horizon Education, JPL, the Planetary Society, and Plant Wave.
So here’s to the bright minds and their brainy projects! Congratulations to all the participants and winners of the Larchmont Charter High School Science Fair. We can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish next. (Hint: It may or may not have to do with spikes!)
My name is Azrin Khan and I am currently a junior (11th grade) in Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet Senior High School in California. My purpose is to build a device which will alert humans when they are going to have muscle cramps, and it will keep a record of the intensity of the cramp and how many times it happened. In addition to that, I am also going to build an app where all the data will be stored, and their doctor will also have access to the data so that any health issues can be determined and kept in control. This is an idea I got after watching all the diseases that have muscle cramps as their symptoms, and I believe having muscle cramps should not be neglected but it should be greatly taken care of and kept track of.
I asked Backyard Brains if they could help me with my project, and so I started to work with their Muscle SpikerShield. At the Bravo/USC Science and Engineering Fair last month, I won First Place in my category which was Mathematics and Computer Sciences.
The goal of this project was to construct a device which will assist epileptics to be alerted of their condition, and alert others around them to be on the lookout for danger when muscles contract abnormally in the body. Also, code to interpret the data recorded from the device into a human understandable language and using a live graph to plot real-time data which will be useful to both the individual and doctors and other professionals to be updated on the most recent conditions. This is the very first device that uses the electrical potential measured from muscle contraction to identify muscle cramps.
Overview of Project
This project uses an alarming device which sounds whenever muscles contract abnormally in a person’s body so that others nearby can also be aware of the patient’s condition. To test if the device was working, I tested on Lumbricus Terrestris (earthworms) and measured the electrical potential for 30 seconds on each earthworm. The device can also record the electrical potential every second so that the recorded information can be shared with their doctors and other professionals through these updates regarding their conditions. The live graph uses Python 2.7.15, and Python IDLE was used as the developing environment. Piezo Speakers connected to the Arduino Uno and Backyard Brains’ Muscle SpikerShield combination device alarms as soon as the electrical potential units reach 95 to 100. In the future, I would like to use an app to make the live graph available to doctors so that they can keep up with their patient’s health.
In conclusion, my device is functioning properly and in addition to my device, I’ve also designed a shirt with a pocket on the left sleeve that patients can use to hold their devices (see below). The Bravo/USC Science and Engineering Fair 2019 was a huge success for me. In my category, Computer Science and Mathematics, there were very impressive projects; someone used a drone to construct a gas sensor, while another participant coded a website that is designed to help people with OCD. I had a total of three judges who interviewed me, and two of the judges were professors from the KECK School of Medicine of USC and another judge was a lab PI also from the KECK School of Medicine of USC.
If you have any examples of our gear in the field, don’t hesitate to email us and share your stories! Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have an idea for your own experiment?
Recreate this experiment or perform your own with the Muscle SpikerShield Bundle!