Backyard Brains: Bringing Neurophysiology Into Secondary Schools

Period of Performance: 04/08/2014 - 03/31/2015


Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Backyard Brains, Inc.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Principal Investigator


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Understanding the brain remains a great challenge both to professional neuroscientists and the general public alike. The nervous system is extremely complex, which is why neural diseases are notoriously widespread and difficult to treat. There are two main ways to solve this problem. One approach is to fund established scientists to research their particular field of study. An alternative way is to invest in the capabilities of future engineers, scientists, and physicians by providing educational science equipment and compelling experiments that teach principles of neuroscience using simple model organisms. A critical barrier to progress with this latter approach has been access to affordable tools and lesson plans. To address this need, we have developed in our Phase I the 1) "SpikerBox": a bio-amplifier that is easy-to-use, inexpensive (<$100), portable, and can detect and record the spiking activity (action potentials) of invertebrates such as crickets and cockroaches;and the 2) "RoboRoach": a wireless neural stimulator for investigating insect behavior. We have designed easy experiments using these pieces of equipment and have begun deploying them in beta high school test sites. In Phase II, we now aim to: 1. Enhance the learning materials and software to the degree that allows any high school biology teacher with little experience to teach neurophysiology experiments in the classroom 2. Commercialize and deploy the next generation RoboRoach and SpikerBox to allow for a greater versatility in experiments for high school classrooms 3. Commercialize and deploy our "OptoGenetics Rig," which is a fully portably miniature electrophysiology apparatus enabling optogenetic experiments in fruit flies in high school classrooms As neuroscience is a multi-disciplinary field encompassing biology, medicine, mathematics, and engineering, our "SpikerBox", "RoboRoach", and "Optogenetic" kits with their associated learning materials may have the effect of improving performance in STEM-related disciplines and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. !