Listening to cockroach legs? There's an app for that

A new open source project has kids learning about neuroscience with a few electrodes and their smart phones.
Written by Rose Eveleth, Contributing Editor

There's an app for just about anything these days. Want to find a date near you? Or just have a woman pretend to be your date? The app store has you covered. Now, there’s one more thing your phone can help you do: neuroscience.

This thing is called the SpikerBox. It’s a one-part bioamplifier one-part app that allows students to listen in on the electrical activity zipping back and forth between neurons. In a recent paper, researchers from a company called Backyard Brains tested their little box in a middle school classroom to see how well kids do with the technology.

The SpikerBox is an open source project – all the plans, parts and schematics are available online for anyone to download and use. All told, assembly at home costs about $40. The company, Backyard Brains, also sells the little boxes for the less technically inclined. But the parts you need are pretty simple:

  1. Soldering Iron
  2. Solder
  3. Magnifying Glass to read labels on Chips and Capacitors
  4. 9V battery to power your SpikerBox.
  5. Silly Putty to hold components in place on board while you solder on backside
  6. Pair of scissors
  7. Wire Strippers and Wire Clippers
  8. Sandpaper to allow the speaker to friction fit into enclosure.
  9. Electrical Tape

Basically, the box is an amplifier just like the kind you plug into your guitar. You put the electrodes (two stainless steel sewing needles connected to some speaker wire) into the region you want to measure. In this example, students were using detached cockroach legs. The electrodes pick up the energy moving between the neurons in the legs, and that reading travels though the wire to a set of amplifiers, and then through a cable to the speaker. The device also has a port where students can plug in smart phones and monitor the signal.

Backyard Brains – whose slogan is “neuroscience for everyone!” – hopes that making these bioamplifiers easier to use and build they can bring neuroscience into the classroom in a more hands on way than before. "Although people are generally interested in how the brain functions, neuroscience education for the public is hampered by a lack of low cost and engaging teaching materials," the authors write in the paper.

via: PLoS ONE

Images from: Backyard Brains

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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