Who says that hands-on approach doesn’t work in virtual space? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: science is doable, DIY-able, interactive, and it works online just as efficiently as it does in person!
Back in August 2020, the IBRO-LARC/PEDECIBA* “DIY Neuroscience and AI for all” workshop showed that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have to stand in the way of hands-on neuroscience. BYB founders, Drs. Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, who also took part in the project, tell us that student attendants from Uruguay, Argentina, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Peru were super engaged and motivated. “I had concerns about a virtual conference at first, but all fears were put to rest once seeing it play out. The discussion, questions and feedback during my lecture was better than in-person,” says Greg.
In his lecture aptly titled “Neuroscience tools for the 99%”, he recounted the humble, bohemian beginnings of Backyard Brains over a decade ago, when he and Tim invented a $100 spike in their dorm room. Building a contraption from scratch and pitching the idea to the scientific community and the public are two different things, so they came up with a satirical narrative about a zombie apocalypse to attract people to their booth at the Society for Neuroscience conference. The rest is history!
In one of his two presentations (which, alas, aren’t available in English), Tim discussed open-source philosophy and ways to make your own lab at home. Hablas Español, anyone? In case you do, here is the video. (If you take notes in English, do send them over!)
María Castelló (Clemente Estable Biological Research Institute), who organized and coordinated the event, confirms that the program was successful and productive, despite the lack of in-person dimension. “Three of the students groups not only prepared their reports but also send manuscripts for publication in an Uruguayan journal for teachers from the Biology Department of the National Administration of Public Education,” Maria told us.
*IBRO (International Brain Research Organization) is an international federation of scientific organizations. It was founded back in 1961 with the mission to promote neuroscience accross the world and foster collaboration between individual researchers as well as scientific communities. IBRO’s LARC (Latin America Regional Committee) is one of their six regional branches spreading accross the continents. PEDECIBA (Basic Sciences Development Program) is Uruguay’s national interdisciplinary program that fosters scientific research as part of the United Nations Development Progoramme (UNDP).
This fall, we worked with two Michigan Public Libraries to bring a “DIY Neuroprosthetics Workshop” to local communities. The workshops were designed to introduce students and interested adults to the fundamentals of neuroscience: The experience began with participants recording their first Action Potential with the Neuron SpikerBox, then seeing the electrical activity of the brain and muscles, to finally controlling The Claw and other humans with the Human-Human Interface!
Before I spill the Feijoada about Backyard Brains’ awesome experience at Campus Party Brazil, I should mention that I firmly believe that education can save the world. I should also mention that in regards to our brains, according to neuroscience research, your education lasts your entire life.
I’ll cut to the chase: my recent Brazilian adventure with Backyard Brains has inspired me to write this to promote lifelong education and moreover, to remind you that learning can be enjoyable and even thrilling. It certainly doesn’t have to be bound to a classroom. Keep in mind that evolutionarily speaking, survival did not depend on absorbing curated lesson plans 8 hours a day in a classroom, but upon chaotic and reactive information-gathering experiences.
At birth our brains develop at an extremely rapid rate. Babies form new neurons at a rate of 250,000 every minute! By the time a child is three years old, their brain will reach 80% of adult volume and create close to 1000 trillion connections between billions of neurons. There is a prevailing myth about the brain that after a certain age we stop forming new neurons. This has been dispelled by current research and it’s clear that the brain has an amazing ability to change throughout life. This is called neuroplasticity and it’s the brain’s ability for our neurons to rewire and add new neurons in regions involved in learning throughout our lifetimes. Believe it or not, these new neurons show the same plasticity as seen in the rapidly developing brain of newborns. On top of that, the adult brain uses about 25% of the body’s metabolic energy despite being on average only 2% of our entire body weight. So considering that a quarter of your energy going to supporting you brain, which has this amazing adaptability to develop and optimize throughout life, why not continually take advantage of your own brain’s superpower of learning?
So, what if we threw super-fun, non-stop parties that were also packed full of learning opportunities? What if these events ran non-stop for up to a week straight? What if we invited world leaders of technology, entertainment, innovation, creativity and science to give inspiring keynote speeches and exciting, intimate workshops? Would the world become a better place?
No need to ponder any further: this type of forward-thinking, multidisciplinary educational party already exists! It’s called Campus Party and Backyard Brains had a blast earlier this year at Campus Party Brazil!
The very first Campus Party to happen in all of Asia is coming soon. This July 6th – 8th, join us at Campus Party Singapore! Backyard Brains will be there putting on two workshops each day. Come learn about neuroscience with us through fun hands-on experiments. You can create your own cyborg cockroach in the RoboRoach Workshop and control your friend’s mind in the Human Interface Workshop. We hope to see you there!! (more…)