STEM Education Through DIY Neuroscience
Meghan Brown posted on February 24, 2017 |
Backyard Brains offers affordable neuroscientific equipment kits that students of any age can build ...

Giving budding engineers and scientists the tools to experiment with technology is a vital component of STEM education. Learning how that technology works and discovering a passion for science or engineering can lead them to pursue STEM in their education and future careers.

Backyard Brains, the brainchild of engineer Greg Gage, is a company founded to help improve access to these kinds of tools, while also making STEM education fun and engaging for kids.  Specifically, Backyard Brains offers affordable, DIY neuroscience equipment kits that students of any age can build and use to learn about electrophysiology. had the opportunity to speak with Gage at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, including a demonstration of the SpikerBox, which records the sounds of the electrical signals that travel between the brain and a muscle, and shows how these signals can be used to have a stranger control your arm.

“One of the issues with neuroscience is that people believe it’s a hard field, and the only way to get access to these tools is to toil away in a research lab for six-and-a-half years getting your PhD before you finally get access to tools that let you record from the brain,” said Gage. “But things are changing now, with the Internet of Things and a bunch of other technologies coming online that are making things low-cost.  We’re taking graduate-level research tools from the lab and bringing them out for the 99 percent, for the common man”

(Image courtesy of Backyard Brains.)

The SpikerBox. (Image courtesy of Backyard Brains.)

“The SpikerBox is our replacement for a big rack of equipment,” Gage explained during the demonstration. “It has a speaker built into it, which will let us listen to what your brain sounds like.”  The SpikerBox is what’s known as a “bioamplifier” since it makes it possible to see and hear the spikes, or action potentials, of living neurons.

According to Gage, the goal of Backyard Brains is to take the “pomp and circumstance” out of neuroscience and neuroengineering.  “Today, you typically have to get a PhD in order to do this type of experiment.  But not anymore.  This is where we come in: we’re making these kits available and it’s all open source.  We have lesson plans and teacher’s guides, and can offer about 45 experiments.”

“We’re trying to start a neuro-revolution. Twenty percent of the world has a neurological disorder, and there are no cures for these diseases. But by getting these kits in the hands of amateurs, maybe we can do what they’ve done in astronomy, like with the Hale-Bopp comet that was discovered by an amateur.  There hasn’t been that big push in the biological and neuroscience fields, so that’s where we’re coming in and trying to help out.”

To learn more, watch the video above or visit the Backyard Brains website.

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