Backyard Brains: Bringing Neurophysiology Into Secondary Schools

Period of Performance: 04/01/2012 - 03/31/2013

$196K

Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

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

Abstract

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Understanding the brain remains a great challenge for treatment of nervous system afflictions and humanistic reasons of comprehending the natural world. Basic neuroscience, though, is typically not taught until advanced college. We hypothesize such paucity in neuroscience education is due to the lack of simple, compelling, inexpensive tools for secondary school students to investigate and understand the brain. To address this need, we have invented the "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. We now aim: 1. To develop the full lesson materials including curricula, lesson plans, lab books, and assessments to allow our SpikerBox to be used in classrooms as an enabling tool to teach neuroscience. 2. To develop easy-to-use data analysis software to accompany the SpikerBox and allow basic neural analysis routines on an iPad or standard laptop. 3. To develop prototypes of the "RoboRoach," a kit modified from off-the-shelf remote control toys that mounts on a cockroach, delivers pulses to the antennae nerves, and allows remote control of cockroach locomotion. Such a preparation is a useful tool for teaching about microstimulation, electronics, and behavior. By allowing secondary school students to learn about the brain by performing real electrophysiology experiments in the classroom, we will increase understanding and retention of neuroscience concepts at an early age. As neuroscience is a multi-disciplinary field encompassing biology, mathematics, and engineering, our "SpikerBox" and "RoboRoach" kits may have the effect of improving performance in STEM-related disciplines and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: Backyard Brains will develop a "SpikerBox" kit with electronics, learning materials, and software to allow secondary school students to investigate the living nervous system of insects in the classroom. By allowing these students to do what was previously only available in advanced college, we aim to inspire the next generation of scientists, physicians, and engineers, as well as accelerate fundamental neuroscience research.