Backyard Brains: Bringing Neurophysiology Into Secondary Schools

Period of Performance: 05/19/2017 - 04/30/2018


Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

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


Project Summary Deciphering how the brain functions remains one of the great challenges remaining to humanity, intriguing scientific professionals and the public equally. The notorious complexity of the nervous system results in neural diseases remaining widespread and difficult to treat. Tools for studying the brain are often difficult to use and only available to graduate students and scientists in large research universities. Providing accessible neuroscience research tools and educational equipment for high schools will accelerate neuroscience innovation by exposing future scientists, engineers, and doctors to principles of nervous system function at much earlier stages in their careers. Implementing electrophysiology and other neuroscience techniques into K12 education has historically been difficult to the lack of affordable tools combined with compelling and accessible learning materials. To address this need, we are developing a neuroscience curriculum based on graduate level neuroscience research tools that can be used in the High School Classroom. 1) The ?SpikerBox?: a family of bio amplifiers that are easy to use, inexpensive (<$100), portable, and can detect and record the action potentials of the nervous system of invertebrates, action potentials of human muscles (EMG), the electrical signature of the heart (EKG), and the electrical oscillations of the human brain (EEG). 2) The ?RoboRoach?: a wireless neural stimulator for investigating insect behavior. 3) The ?OptoStimmer?: a fully portable mobile phone based miniature microscope and electrophysiology apparatus enabling optogenetic experiments in fruit flies in high school classrooms. 4) The ?SpikerShield?: a human interface toolkit that allows students to connect their bodies? electrical signals (from muscles, heart, eyes, and brain) into creative engineering team projects such as robotic grippers, computer mice, musical instruments, video game interfaces, and prosthetic models. 5) A Comprehensive student neuroscience text and Teacher manual that focuses on problem based instructional neuroscience units, with guidance for managing a problem based classroom. As neuroscience is a multi disciplinary field encompassing biology, medicine, mathematics, and engineering, the educational tools and materials to be developed here will improve learning in STEM related disciplines and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and physicians.