Watch a film about a mad scientist from the golden age of Hollywood and chances are good that among the other set pieces, you’ll see human brains floating in jars of cloudy fluid wired up to electrodes and fancy machines. It’s all made up, of course, but tropes work because they’re based on a kernel of truth, and we in the audience know that our brains and the other parts of our nervous system do indeed work on electricity. Or more precisely, excitable tissues in our nervous systems pass electrochemical signals between themselves as waves of potential across cell membranes.
Studying this electrical world locked away inside our heads is a challenging, but by no means impossible, pursuit. Usable signals can be picked up, amplified, digitized, and recorded to help us understand what’s going on when we think, feel, move, sleep, wake, or just be. Neuroscience has made tremendous strides looking at these signals, but the equipment to do so has largely remained the province of large universities and teaching hospitals with ample budgets, leaving the amateur neuroscientist out of luck.
Tim Marzullo, co-founder of Backyard Brains, is looking to change all that. While working on his Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Michigan, he and Greg Gage looked for ways to make the tools of neuroscience research affordable to everyone. The result is the Neuron SpikerBox, a low-cost bioamplifier that can tap into the “spikes” of action potential in live neurons. Open-source tools like these have helped educators bring neuroscience experiments to STEM students, and even helped other scientists set up novel, low-cost experiments.
Tim will join us on the Hack Chat to talk about doing DIY neuroscience and designing the instruments that make it possible. Bring your “mad scientist” questions as we push back the veil of ignorance on how our brains work, one neuron at a time.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 24 at 12:00 PM Pacific time (UTC-8). If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.