VIDEO: DIY STEM Kit Lets Users Study the Brain
Staff posted on December 09, 2015 |
How to inspire the next generation of bioengineers with a few wires and analog circuits.

How can we make feats of engineering accessible? How do we stimulate a student’s sense of wonder through experimentation in STEM education?

These questions inspired the creation of the Backyard Brains Electromyography (EMG) SpikerBox. This EMG tool allows students to read electro-activity in the brain through the arm muscles using leads connected to a portable setup.

Students can go a step further by connecting their iPhones to the SpikerBox to interpret readings generated from arm movements. This tool encourages experimentation, such as assessing reaction times using SpikerBox and its mobile or computer apps.

In the video above, Todd Sierer of ENGINEERING.com played guinea pig as Dr. Greg Gage, co-founder of Backyard Brains, demonstrated exactly what the SpikerBox could do.

Dr. Gage recorded the static noise generated from the movements of Sierer’s arm before pitching experiment ideas using the reaction timer. 
Inside the EMG SpikerBox. (Image courtesy Backyard Brains.)
Inside the EMG SpikerBox. (Image courtesy Backyard Brains.)

“What you’re listening to now is the electrical activity in your brain,” Gage explained. “We have a reaction timer and I could turn it on and I could put a light on, for example. When you see that light, you’ll flex your muscle. I’ll keep track of the time the light comes on and what time the muscle got activated and that’s your reaction time. Then, instead of just responding to a light, I could tell you to only respond when you see a green light. If I measure that reaction time, it’s going to be about 150 milliseconds longer. If you do this enough times you can take an average of the reaction times and now you’re measuring cognitive processes inside the brain just by recording from your muscles.”

Sierer’s excited reaction to the experiment in the video is on point. It’s this type of simple, yet engaging experimentation that can get young students really excited and interested in STEM.

Additionally, the transparent and simple design of SpikerBox can also inspire students to investigate the engineering behind the device.

The SpikerBox can be purchased pre-built or ordered as a kit for users to put together in four hours or less. “We purposely hand-made it so students could build it for themselves and so we could sell them in little kits,” said Gage.

The EMG SpikerBox is just one of many products Backyard Brains is offering to encourage experimentation and STEM education.

The company is also planning on branching out to optics, human electro-physiology and cyborg products, among others.

“We’re trying to take all of the latest and greatest technologies found in neuroscience research labs and using 3D printers and DIY processes to make these available for everyone,” Dr. Gage said.

Watch the video above for the full EMG SpikerBox demonstration and click here to visit the Backyard Brains website to learn more.

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