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Neuroscience for Everyone!

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Leadership Initiatives Youth Development Program Features a Week Dedicated to Neuroscience!

The Leadership Initiatives Advanced Medical Neuroscience Summit is a program that’s available for rising freshmen in high school to rising freshmen in college that gives students the opportunity to live for a short time at a college campus (Gorgeous Georgetown), attend lectures and learn from neuroscience professors, tour high-tech labs, and perform hands-on research. This is our kind of student summer gig!

Backyard Brains and the Leadership Initiatives program have a shared interest in exposing students to real neuroscience at an early age, while simultaneously doing everything in our power to help those students “self-visualize” as neuroscientists themselves! It’s this kind of work that will help to inspire the next generation of creative thinkers and neuroscientists.

We talked to one of the organizers, Morgan Biele, about this year’s experience. Morgan is a past attendee of the program and was excited to share how this summer’s Neuroscience Summit went.

“Over the course of the week, students were visiting labs and listening to lectures from expert neuroscientists. I’d recommend watching the video we produced to learn all about the program!

Students at the Leadership Initiatives Medical Neuroscience Summit wowed by DIY hands-on neuroscience – in this photo a Human-Cockroach Interface!

“During our summit, students used several muscle SpikerBoxes, Human-Human Interface kits, and RoboRoach kits; the students absolutely loved learning with them. They had been in awe at the high-tech tools the professors and researchers used, but the Backyard Brains equipment really made neuroscience experimentation feel accessible to them.

Selfies with the invertebrate neuroscience star Blaberus discoidalis!

“The students were completely fascinated. We noticed that the hands-on activities are invaluable for maintaining student engagement and curiosity, so we’d love to consider integrating more of that accessible technology into our programs.”

Medical Neuroscience Students pose with their very own Cyborg RoboRoaches!

I asked Morgan about how Backyard Brains was discovered by the program. She laughed, and explained how she had used Backyard Brains kits in school and knew they had to include them in the summer program, saying,
“We’re proud to have Backyard Brains equipment in the program and displayed on the website for Leadership Initiatives.” She had been introduced by her biology teacher, and even competed in Science Fair with a poster project performed with our Heart and Brain SpikerBox.

She wrote, “I believe you mentioned being curious about seeing a science fair project I completed with Backyard Brains too, so I’ve attached my science fair project poster (this was my first one, and I’ve noticed many flaws in hindsight just to inform you! Also, my hypothesis wasn’t supported, so maybe it isn’t very valuable…!)”

Recording the electricity of the brain… for a high school science fair project! The future is now.

We loved this poster at the office, and think that Morgan’s concern that her hypothesis wasn’t supported is one that many students share. But that’s science! It’s okay if your project doesn’t prove your expectations, in fact sometimes it’s just as fascinating when it doesn’t.

Students are skeptical about being able to control a cockroach leg with their muscles…
But by hooking up the Muscle SpikerBox Pro with a Stimulation Cable to a cockroach leg…
They can see it dance and move!

Be on the lookout for more collaborations between Backyard Brains and the Leadership Initiatives Medical Neuroscience Summit in the future!

For now, I can say this: Teachers, this is a fantastic opportunity for your students! There are costs associated with attending, but there are scholarships and information for helping make it very affordable on their website.

Meet us after school for Cockroach Club

You never know what might capture a students’ attention and passion… Maybe the recent photo of a black hole inspires a student to learn about astrophysics, or maybe an experiment involving cockroaches inspires a student to want to learn more about neuroscience!

Recently, we heard word from two graduating high school seniors in Ohio who started a “Cockroach Club.” This after-school club is dedicated to neuroscience and invertebrate electrophysiology! Two students, Emma and Krista, were introduced to neuroscience in one of their PLTW classes with the Neuron SpikerBox, Roboroach, The Claw, and the Human-Human Interface.

Emma and Krista were fascinated by the labs, and wanted to learn more! But, as need not be said, the PLTW curriculum doesn’t leave a lot of room for digression: So, they started an after-school club to pursue Neuroscience! Enough from me though, let’s hear about it in their words.

From Krista, 12th grade;
Passionate about art, music, and biology.

Cockroach club is a student-led learning group we put together following the ever-increasing amount of questions we had for my biology teacher. She prompted us to get together after school to talk about science and biology, and she also suggested we take a look at a cool kit she had made by Backyard Brains where we could create and control a cyborg cockroach (The Roboroach). Ever since then, we’ve had numerous club meetings and we have all learned a lot about science as well as teamwork!

When I first saw the cockroaches, I wasn’t too fond of them. They were little bugs that moved a little too fast for me. After our many experiments and working with the insects for so long, I have taken a liking to them. I help feed and care for the roaches from time to time. We’ve even given a few of them names. They’re pretty cool, but I still refuse to touch them myself (I let other members of the club handle them!)

Although we have learned a bit about neuroscience in school, the Roboroach was one of the first times I was able to see it in action, along with the human to human interface. I knew that neuroscience was super interesting and has a lot of potential, but after seeing it up close and personal, my curiosity and interest in the field has definitely increased.

This was my senior year, and I was not planning on pursuing neuroscience or engineering, but cockroach club and PLTW have helped me learn about a lot of different topics in science and biology fields. They not only exposed me to an extensive number of topics but also encouraged my love for science and biology. Cockroach club and PLTW allowed me to cultivate my curiosity and ask more questions than I ever have.

From Emma, 12th grade;
Passionate about dancing, biology, art, reading/writing.

Cockroach club allows us to use the science equipment available in class for personal projects and other things. For example, we can mount slides with things we want to look at under a microscope but that aren’t relevant to in-class topics. Our teacher supervises all of our work so that we do things safely and correctly.

The cockroaches made me a bit uncomfortable at first. But, as with most things in biology, after I learned a little more about their biology, saw them more often, and accidentally touched them a couple times, I was okay with handling them. Not before initial anesthesia though; I’m not afraid of the roaches, but I am afraid of losing them!

In class, the more mechanical parts of neuroscience aren’t discussed as in-depth, so using neuroscience technology in tandem with the body’s nervous system was something I hadn’t thought about until we started using the tech in cockroach club.

One quick experiment we came up with was using the human-to-human interface on a fellow student’s eyelid as opposed to on his arm (with his consent and complete knowledge) and it worked out well. We were able to twitch his eyelids shut with another student’s arm.

I am graduating this year too, and I’m still super undecided about everything because of how far apart my interests are from one another but in general, PLTW and Cockroach Club combined have inspired me to look towards the sciences for my future.

Cockroach Club’s Future

With many members of Cockroach Club graduating, the club’s advisor and the remaining members are working to rally interest for the club for next year. The goal is to continue to offer the opportunity for students to pursue their personal science interests in the club, but perhaps the pursuit of the interests could turn into formal research projects! We’ll be sure to keep you updated of how this fantastic example of student-driven learning continues next year!

Cincinnati Neuroscience Outreach by BYB Alumna

Feat. DIY Neurosci Research Projects proposed, projected, poster-ed, and presented by Middle School students!

Anastasiya was one of BYB’s 2018 Summer Fellows (of jellyfish fame), and now she has written back to us about the neuroscience outreach she has been doing in the Cincinnati area! One of the reasons we changed our summer program’s name from internship to fellowship is due to instances like this, where the students we bring in continue to work with us and connect us to the community at large, years after they leave Ann Arbor. Thank  you for spreading the Good Word, Ana!