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. !

Public Health Relevance

Backyard Brains will commercialize the SpikerBox, RoboRoach, and Optogenetic kits with associated 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.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Small Business Innovation Research Grants (SBIR) - Phase II (R44)
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Grabb, Margaret C
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Backyard Brains, Inc.
Ann Arbor
United States
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Shannon, Kyle M; Gage, Gregory J; Jankovic, Aleksandra et al. (2014) Portable conduction velocity experiments using earthworms for the college and high school neuroscience teaching laboratory. Adv Physiol Educ 38:62-70