This week at Neuroscience Camp, campers have learned a lot, and were able to experience some amazing opportunities!
On Monday, we started out by all learning a little more about how our brains work, and one very important type of brain cell: the neuron! We were fortunate to hear some wonderful lectures by Dr. Orie Shafer, a neuroscientist here at the University and the person who made this camp possible through a very generous grant. He gave our campers a great introduction on neurons and how they function, and we later made some models of neurons.
Later, we tested our reaction times after receiving visual, audio and tactile stimuli, and noticed that most of us were quickest to react to visual stimuli.
Then, it was time to begin our Backyard Brains experiments! Backyard Brains is a company with a location here in Ann Arbor that works to make neuroscience equipment for students to use in the classroom. The first experiment we tried let us view the neurons in our muscles firing, by putting electrodes on our biceps and using a Muscle Spikerbox to view the spikes on an app.
On Tuesday, we got to experiment with a very different subject: cockroaches! More specifically, their legs. We removed one of the cockroaches back legs after anesthetizing it in ice water, and hooked it up to another Backyard Brains device, the Neuron Spikerbox. Even after the cockroach leg is detached from its body, its neurons are still firing, and we got to watch it happen by stimulating the barbs on the cockroach’s leg with a toothpick. We also did an experiment where we used electricity (via music on our computers) to make the cockroach’s leg “dance” as the neurons fired and caused it to move.
We were also lucky enough to take a peek into some neuroscience labs here at Michigan. First, we went to Dr. Orie Shafer’s lab, where he and his team are studying circadian rhythm in fruit flies and using that data to learn about humans’ circadian rhythm. We helped Orie’s team sort fruit flies under a microscope, and learned some ways to tell them apart by gender.
We also got to visit Dr. Cunming’s lab, where they are studying the genes that cause rapid cell division in zebrafish, and learning how to slow it down. They are hoping to use some of this research to slow down human cancer cell division.
On Wednesday, we discussed the scientific process. We learned that the Scientific Process is closer to what scientists do in real life. Instead of having the steps in a straight progression (like the Scientific Method) this shows a cycle. Scientists work in cycles like this. When they finish an experiment, they look at what they’ve just learned to design their next experiment. If they didn’t get the results they expected, they change their experiment, or their hypothesis, to find out what went wrong. We also talked about the engineering design process, which is the process engineers go through to observe, gather ideas, and create solutions to problems.
We got to do some more great experiments with our muscles on Wednesday, using more Backyard Brains equipment! First, we tested how long it took us after seeing a light to flex our muscle, and monitored our reaction time using the muscle spikerboxes. Some of our campers had very quick reflexes!
One of the most exciting experiments for our campers was using their own muscles to “control” someone else’s — we learned how to use your muscle signal to control other devices, in this case, a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator) to excite and contract the muscle of another human! When one person flexed their bicep, their partner’s fingers moved all on their own.
Later, we got to visit the Taubman Health Sciences Library to visit the Anatomage Table to learn more about the brain and nervous system by looking at 3D models of the human body and brain. The Anatomage Table is the most technologically advanced anatomy visualization system for anatomy education.
We finished up the day by completing a classic engineering task: building a marshmallow tower. The campers had a lot of fun figuring out how to build the tallest, sturdiest structure using as few materials as possible.
|The group that won with their structure|
On Thursday, we started our day with a team-building exercise where groups had to work together on three “deserted islands” to get emergency supplies to each other using just buckets and rope. It was awesome to see them all work together to solve a problem!
We then got a wonderful lecture by Dr. Orie Shafer about brain activity and the way in changes in rest and sleep, before our campers got to see for themselves what their brain waves actually looked like by using an EEG reader made by Backyard Brains. They also got to see their heart rhythms and how it responded to stimuli (such as holding our breath or putting our hands in cold water) on an EKG reader.
|Putting our hands in cold water to see how it affected our heart rate|
Later, we got to visit the maker space of Backyard Brains, and we got to see some of the cool new technology they were working on! Thank you to Backyard Brains for giving us the opportunity to work with some awesome tools.
We finished out the day by completing experiments and helping each other gather data to test our hypotheses, before each camper gave a presentation on their experiment and its results.
We all had an amazing time at Neuroscience Camp this week, and we hope all of our campers learned a lot, and got to have a lot of fun! Thank you to Dr. Orie Shafer for all his help this week, as well as Backyard Brains.