Hi! I am Juan Ferrada, a biochemistry student at the lovely Universidad de Santiago in Chile. That’s me below with my girlfriend Rocia on campus. She is an important part of my project.
At the university I work with Dr. Patricio’s Rojas, a longtime colleague of Backyard Brains. Thanks to Patricio, Backyard Brains’ equipment has been to Antarctica!
In his lab, I study the temperature dependence of ion channels. I am in my last semester of studies, and in Chile every student has to do a “práctica” which is doing an internship for a clinical lab, company, or non-university research lab. Since Backyard Brains is in a sweet spot between company product development and neuroscience research, it makes doing a project with them an exciting, novel, and unorthodox práctica.
About my project
Backyard Brains started out studying neurons in cockroaches, then expanded to muscles in humans (EMG), than hearts (EKG), then brains (EEG), and then eyes (EOG). Now we return come back to the first love and dedication, the neuron, in search of the the most iconic symbol – the intracellularly recording action potential, Hodgkin-Huxley style. Teachers all the time ask Backyard Brains how to replicate, in a certain form, the famous Hodgkin Huxley intracellularly recorded action potential, and I am here to help! To begin, we will go to our backyard. Or, well, my girlfriend’s backyard (I told you Rocia would appear again).
Rocia has a garden, full of exotic and indigenous plants, from rosales to venus flytraps, but there are other things besides plants in the garden. There are things that eat my girlfriend’s plants:
Specifically, The scourge of my girlfriend is named Helix aspersa, also known as the pond snail. They like green leaves, but are especially of eating the tomato plant entirely, fruit and all. In France and Spain, these are the same snails that are cooked and served as elegant dishes (escargot).
These snails are interesting because they have very large pacemaker cells (which fire spontaneous action potentials like the ones you can see in your heart) located in the parietal ganglia (PG) involved in the chemo-mechanical sensation. Most classical intracellular recording techniques involve electrically stimulating the neuron, which can result in artifact, requires multiple electrodes, etc… Given that we will record from cells that are constantly firing spikes, we should be able to record spontaneous action potentials without the need for electrical stimulation. We want to make the preparation as simple as we can, BYB style.
Beginning the Project
To begin, we have to get the snails, which I collected during Easter Weekend. Check.
Now we will do some exploratory surgeries to extract the PG and try to isolate the neurons. To do this, we will anesthetize the snails with a Magnesium Chloride solution. Once we have the neurons, we will build a DIY glass electrode, mated with the original Neuron SpikerBox, to try to record the elusive intracellular action potential. Stay tuned as we begin this project. Saludos desde el Sur!
Chile has some a famous squid called Dosidicus gigas. With a mantle of 4.9 ft and 60 lbs it’s one of the largest of its kind. Experiments using the giant axon of this squid kickstarted the field of biophysics in Chile.
Due to Chile’s isolation, surrounded by the Andes Mountains, the Atacama desert, and the Pacific ocean, we have a very diverse unique fauna, indigenous to the country, and we have an even greater marine fauna thanks to the Humboldt current. But, we don’t have many mammals (around 150) for a country of such North-South extent. But… we do have the smallest wild cat in the americas, Leopardus guigna.
Tiwari SK, Woodruff ML.Helix aspersa neurons maintain vigorous electrical activity when co-cultured with intact H. aspersa ganglia. Comp Biochem Physiol C. 1992;101(1):163-74.
STEM Ed Toys of the Future!
BYB’s adventures at Toy Fair 2018
Toy Fair is one of the largest gatherings of toy manufacturers, distributors, and buyers in the world, and in 2018, we threw our hat into the ring! We’ve been at this whole DIY Neuroscience thing in an educational space for almost 9 years, and we thought it was about time to test the waters in the consumer market, and Toy Fair was a great opportunity to do just that: we were in the room with giants like Hasbro and ThinkFun, learning how we could improve the toy factor of our science kits. Our table was situated in the “Launchpad” section of the conference where other companies new to Toy Fair were also showing off their offerings! (Will got a sneak peek at some of the hot new STEM Ed games hitting the shelves this year during his wanderings–just you wait for Killer Snails the Card Game!)
We did a lot of demos, we did presentations for press, and we did what we could to spread the good word: Neuroscience is here, it’s important, and it’s fun! A few local news stations featured us, helping amplify our voice. We demoed some new prototypes, and our stalwart Human-Human Interface was popular as usual. We were in new territory and a lot of people had never heard of us before, so it was a great opportunity to build new relationships and attract new attention.
Zach, our Development Engineer, said, “I enjoyed demoing to people who had never seen our kits before but are part of increasing the amount of STEM education tools. We received a lot of great feedback from others in the industry about their experiences and issues that we can avoid. It was also great to test out some of our new/updated products that we are developing.” Zach’s newest developments include the Neuron SpikerBox Pro and Muscle SpikerBox Pro, as well as the Plant SpikerBox, his little leafy baby.
His partner in crime at Toy Fair 2018 was Will, our resident Outreach Coordinator, poet, and maker of schpiels. He’s been getting people to roll their sleeves up for science for a long time now. He said of the show, “I’m pretty used to explaining our work to educators and scientists, so Toy Fair was a totally new experience. I wasn’t sure how non-scientists would react to the gear, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that everyone loved the kits and wanted to try them for themselves! It was exciting to show so many people, for the first time in their lives, real neuroscience experiments and recordings from their brains and nervous systems!”
Toy Fair was a big success for us. We tried on a toymaker’s hat to see if it fit, and who knows what the future will bring?
Call for Undergraduates in Biology or Engineering Fields:
Are you a neuroscience nerd? Do you want to learn how the brains of animals like squids or dragonflies work? Is your background in Electrical, Mechanical or Computer Engineering? Want to develop your own innovative experiments and publish your results? Learn to communicate those stunning results with the public? Maybe even all of the above? Then you’re in luck!
2017 Fellows from left to right: Top: Greg Gage (Not a fellow), Zach, Jaimie, Spencer, Nathan, Ilya. Bottom: Joud, Christy, Haley.
The Backyard Brains Summer Research Fellowship is an intensive 10 week program for undergraduates to participate in hands-on neuroscience research and experiment design with award winning neuroscientists. This is the 5th year of running our prestigious (and paid) summer program and this year it will run from May 21, 2018 to Aug 3, 2018 in Downtown Ann Arbor, MI. All applications must be received by noon eastern time (12:00 PM, EST) on March 22, 2018 to be eligible. We will be notifying applicants of their status by March 29, 2018.
Apply to the Summer Fellowship Today!
This is our 5th iteration of the program, and it just gets better every year. Like a fine wine! Our summer fellowship program is run much like a graduate school laboratory. All participants will be working on their own independent research projects for the whole summer. We will have daily journal clubs to go over key papers and expand knowledge in the area, and each participant will be trained how to develop their own experiments and to build their own devices to perform those experiments. You, future BYB scientist, will be collecting data, analyzing it, and presenting your results.
The end result of your summer fellowship will be a publishable experiment and video for our website, as well as a poster to be delivered at Undergraduate Research Poster Session of the Society for Neuroscience. In 2017, all of our participants presented their research at a Undergraduate Research conference and some were selected to be posters at the Society for Neuroscience Conference. We also brought home the hardware to show for the hard work: all of our research fellows will be featured in a new TED show called “DIY Neuroscience,” which will begin airing on March 14. We will work with each student to prepare a 10 minute TED-style talk for a public event in Ann Arbor, with the possibility of presenting at our annual TEDx event. We have also worked with students to continue refining their experiment writeups into manuscripts in order to publish first-authored papers in peer-reviewed journals.
Apply to the Summer Fellowship Today!