On Saturday, myself (Katie), Kira and Devin went to the Brighton science festival to host a stall, teaching children a bit about the brain and giving them a taste of what neuroscience is like. We set up ‘build your own neuron’, where they could make their own neuron from pipe cleaners, pom poms and plasticine. The kids could also make brain hats so that they could see all the parts of the brain in relation to their own heads.
‘Backyard brains’ proved to be very popular, as kids were able to control their parents’ arms with their brains! We hook up electrodes to the arm muscles of the children, and another set of electrodes to a nerve in the arm of their parent. When the children move their arms, the electrodes pick up the activity, and through an Arduino, this leads to stimulation of their parent’s arm. It was great to see the children squeal delightedly as their parents’ hands twitched whenever they moved their own arm. It was also a nice opportunity to illustrate how neurons work through changes in charge, and that electrical stimulation can therefore cause our muscles to move.
Our main attraction was the ‘mind-flex duel’ game. The aim of this game is to push a ball away from yourself through the power of your brain. Players wear a headset with a sensor that picks up activity in the frontal lobe. The player for whom it senses more activity gets more “power” and therefore pushes the ball harder away from them. Parents and children alike loved this and were fascinated by how it worked! The children wanted tips on how they could beat their parents (and the adults were especially keen on finding out how to win against their partners), and so it was a really great way of teaching them in what functions the frontal lobe is particularly involved, which led to a lot of children practising their times tables!
We also enjoyed going around different stalls during our break, and made a bee-line for the reptile rooms, where we were lucky enough to be allowed to hold one of the snakes (his name is Sunny!) We also talked with the people running the coding education stand, which really inspired us to get involved in hosting classes for young children starting to learn- hopefully we’ll be able to start doing this soon!