Both TV and the web overflow with brain scans, neural prostheses, brain medicines and brain drama. But most audiences have no idea how the brain works, and school biology has not kept pace. Enter Backyard Brains… conceived and shipped from a humble maker space in Ann Arbor, MI, their SpikerBoxes and mobile phone apps re-engineer complex and expensive university lab devices to demonstrate living neuron function in real time with inexpensive open technology.
The information unit of the nervous system is a “spike”, similar to a computer bit, but info is coded by timing and frequency of spikes (tiny electrical impulses lasting 1/1000 of a sec). The textbook description of spikes is often dull, but seeing and hearing spikes “POP” from a cockroach leg or human hand in real time is captivating. Backyard Brains’ compact and cheap devices spread neuronal excitement to young biologists and teachers.
These technologies side-step previous insurmountable equipment costs and technical SNAFUs to enable easy live classroom demonstrations. Smart phone cables and Apps provide a “free” oscilloscope display or very usable “microscope.” For college students, Backyard Brains provides a complete compact electrophysiology rig. All products are accompanied with online lesson plans and lab guides. The impact of these devices are apparent only with a live demonstration.