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High School Students Publish a Paper on Plant Physiology in a Notable Journal

high schoolers from chile doing plant experiments
The students doing the experiments. Photos by Abraham Martínez Gutiérrez, official photographer of the high school.

— Written by Tim Marzullo —

In an article we previously published in June 2022 about our scientific paper that dealt with play behavior in fish, I concluded at the end of the article:

I think it is possible for novices and high school students to publish papers (and it is the dream and goal of our team)… That is why we are planning an experiment. We want to publish with a school in Santiago, Chile, collaborating with second and third year high school students. We are collecting data on electrical signals in plants… If it works, we will tell you…

Dear readers, 21 months after writing this, the day has arrived. We did it! Our paper recently appeared in the academic journal “Plant Signaling and Behavior” about our experiments in electrophysiology in plants, with 5 high school students as the first authors. You can read the paper here.

A library of electrophysiological responses in plants - a model of transversal education and open science
The beginning of the published paper, with high school students in the front line

Electrical signals in plants? What? Yes, it is understudied and often misunderstood, but plants do have signals similar to the electrical signals we have in our hearts, muscles, and brain. However, they are much slower (1,000-15,000 times slower). But what are they for? In the famous examples of the venus flytrap and the sensitive mimosa, the electrical signals coordinate their fast movements, but electrical signals also exist in plants that do not move quickly, such as tomatoes, chili peppers, basil, etc.

One of the functions of electrical signals in plants is as an alarm signal. For example, if a herbivore is eating a plant, an electrical signal passes through the branches saying “we are under attack” and the plant can synthesize bitter compounds so that the leaves taste bitter. A plant cannot escape when under attack, and it has the problem that it is “stuck in place forever” (i.e., it cannot run away from a threat, or fight physically), but there are protection systems and defenses (thorns, poisons, production of bitter compounds, etc.).

Dear reader, the day has arrived. We did it! Our paper about our experiments in electrophysiology in plants recently appeared in the academic journal “Plant Signaling and Behavior,” with 5 high school students as the first authors.

As electrophysiology in plants is understudied, we wanted to further investigate electrical signals in plants that do not necessarily move rapidly. And with that idea, we began to work on an ambitious project with the (high school) Colegio Alberto Blest Gana (CABG) in San Ramón, Santiago.

But before discussing the results, we must give a little more context about the scientific publication process.


Summer Research Fellow’s Mantis Shrimp Paper has been Published!

Hot off the presses! Read all about it! Mantis Shrimp Wrangler Extraordinaire Dan has been published!

Dan presenting his research in Europe

Backyard Brains Senior Fellow Dan Pollack has had his research published in JUNE, the Journal for Undergraduate Neuroscience Education: “An Electrophysiological Investigation of Power-Amplification in the Ballistic Mantis Shrimp Punch.” The paper offers a rundown of Dan’s research, culminating in a template laboratory exercise for use in classrooms, studying the electrophysiology of power-amplified limb movement in arthropods, with a specific focus on mantis shrimp strikes. How do mantis shrimps punch so hard, and how can we study the phenomena in the classroom?


BYB in High School!

Backyard Brains always loves hearing about our equipment making its way out into the world and into a classroom, so we were thrilled to hear from Dr. Nancy Cowdin, a Neuroscientist and Science teacher at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School. Dr. Cowdin recently taught an elective course in Neuroscience where seniors at the all-girls high school in Washington, DC had done some research with our SpikerBoxes!

“We were given some start-up funds by a donor to purchase the kits. The students first constructed the DIY spiker boxes (with some difficulties… but it proved to be a great problem-solving activity),” Dr. Nancy Cowdin shared–just what we like to hear!For the research projects, each group selected an experiment of interest from those listed on your Backyard Brains website. They designed a research protocol (modified from your experiments), created an Informed Consent for all human-subject projects, were required to keep a laboratory notebook, recruited and tested subjects, and figured out how to use the recordings to analyze the data.

The culmination of their work was a poster session and a formal presentation to fellow classmates and some faculty members. The students took away each other’s free will with the Human-Human Interface; they examined the difference in muscle fatigue between softball players and pianists with the Muscle SpikerBox; they observed the effects of various substances on the cockroach nervous system with the Neuron SpikerBox (which they built themselves!); they looked at eye action potentials and the mysterious P300 signal with our Heart & Brain SpikerShield.

“All in all, this was a very worthwhile endeavor. I have done research with sleep physiology in past years but your equipment broadened our horizons!” Dr. Cowdin plans to order more Backyard Brain kits in the future and further incorporate the SpikerBox into her class again. Another successful recruit to the Neurorevolution! Thank you, Dr. Cowdin and the senior girls of Georgetown Visitation, and keep spreading the word!


We’d love to hear your success stories. Share them with us at and we may feature your students’ work as well! And, you know, junior publication credits look great on College Applications…