Technology with attitude

SpikerBox Kit Lets Students Observe Neurons as They Fire


Instead of using oldscool demonstration tools like Ping-Pong balls and jump ropes to explain electrical activity in brain, neuroscientist professors Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo came up with an idea to build a device that records firing neurons. The SpikerBox is a bioamplifier that costs $100 only and picks up electricity by the pins on the machine so the students can observe in real time what the brain is doing. In their example, Cage and Marzullo use cockroaches, but they’d like to get things going on vertebrates and sea animals in the future. If you do not want to spend $100,  the two scientists, who founded their company Backyard Brains when they where grad students at University of Michigan, let you build the device yourself from only $49, which covers the cost of the parts. For more info read their SpikerBox DIY Guide.

“We wanted to do this because kids who could become the best neuroscientists in the world might never become neuroscientists because neuroscience is not taught in high school. They might teach about the nervous system or the brain, but it’s very general. When you choose a career, you don’t choose things you read about in books; you choose based on the experiences you have. Seeing that cockroach leg dance to music and being able to manipulate the leg and hear the spikes that come out of it are really compelling. Those are events in children’s lives.”

This article was originally published in the print edition of Scientific American as “When Cockroach Legs Dance.”