On 16 January Kira, Orla and Dori gave three workshops for schools visiting our university. The schools were visiting us as part of the Widening Participation initiative, which aims to introduce young people to higher education.
We gave a guided tour through the brain, discussing what neurons are and how they communicate, how the cerebellum adapts, what’s so special about H.M.’s hippocampus and how your frontal lobe helps you make moral decisions.
Last Saturday 28 April our lab was at Lewes STEMfest. We had a stand were visitors could battle each other using the power of their brain, or were they could control someone else’s arm! In the process we tried to teach them about how the brain works.
We had great fun, Orla even overcame hear fear and held a snake! And it was great to see so many people interested in Neuroscience!
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!
Yesterday, 26 January, we showed off our public engagement material at the public engagement showcase. This event was organised by the wonderful Katy Petherick, University’s Life Sciences Public Engagement Coordinator. Scientists interested in public engagement from all different parts of life sciences brought their public engagement knowledge and material. There was furthermore a life science baking competition, with some amazing entries!
On our stall we featured several of our cool brain-related experiments. One of the experiments is a game called Mindflex Duel. This game uses an EEG sensor to read the brain activity in the frontal lobe. Two players have to push a ball along a track with their brain power. The person that thinks the hardest wins.
We furthermore showed our Human-Human Interface from Backyard Brains. This device uses the electricity your brain uses to send signals from the brain to the muscles. One person, the controller, flexes their arm, and the electricity that causes this flexing is recorded. It is then read by a little computer (an Arduino) and transferred to the other person, the controllee. The electricity is then send into their ulnar nerve, the nerve that runs through your funny bone. This causes the arm of the controllee to flex, without them having any control over it.
It was great to by able to talk to other scientists that are interested in public engagement and to see everyone’s activities. Thanks to Katy Petherick for organising!
Kira, Orla and Katie premiered their ‘tour of the brain’ for year 6 pupils on Wednesday 14 June. They guided the students through three important areas of the brain: the cerebellum, the visual cortex and the frontal lobe.
Left to right: Kira presenting the cerebellum, Katie presenting the visual cortex and Orla presenting the frontal lobe.