Backyard Brains at TED2012 - Neuroscience kits for high school students

[Video Link] Here at TED2012 Gregory Gage of Backyard Brains showed me how to measure the electrical activity of a neuron in a cockroach leg. At around the 12:00 minute mark, Gregory pumps the electrical signal from music on his iPhone into the cockroach's leg, causing it to twitch in time with the beat. (The cockroach's leg will grow back.)


  1. These guys are a great example of an amazing company. They hire within the community they work in, are very involved in the hackerspace community (All Hands Active), and offer some very cool hands on activities for schools & students. Good stuff all around. 

  2. “The cockroach’s leg will grow back”. Sorry, no. Adult insects don’t regrow legs that have been pulled off.

      1. This one was, yes, but the legs of the juveniles don’t respond as effectively as those of the adults, typically.

        Of course, the average wild cockroach adult has five and a half legs.  They’re built to deal with limb loss with little to no significant impairment.

  3. That was totally cool, fascinating stuff. What an amazing kit, and a great project. And the Beastie Boys leg thing was just awesome, I can’t imagine a kid that wouldn’t be blown away by that. I certainly was.

  4. fuck yeah, Paul’s Boutique!  appropriate use of the grimiest B Boys song coupled to the leg of the grimiest critter.  Now, can we hook this thing up to the legs of the white folks at the club? :P

  5. I find it disturbing that anyone can believe ripping the limb off of a live animal is justified if it helps kids “learn about neuroscience.”  The only justification I can think of is if someone is an actual scientist doing research in the pursuit of knowledge the results of which are to be published in a peer reviewed journal.  How about starting out by teaching kids the ethical treatment of animals?  The danger of this activity is evident at the end when they connect the leg to an iPod playing a hip-hop tune and make jocular comments as the leg twitches to the beat.  Kind of makes me wonder if perhaps they developed their warped ethical compass by listening to too much rap music.  Notice how the camera man utters some lame urban legend, which goes unchallenged, about how lab cockroaches must be fed organic lettuce because they supposedly die if they eat the non-organic variety.  As prerequisite to ethical training they could both use some training in critical thinking too.

    1. “Notice how the camera man utters some lame urban legend”
      I’m the “cameraman” and the “lame urban legend” was told to me by Garnett Hertz, who keeps cockroaches. He knows what he’s talking about.

  6. Weird, why is everyone so upset about cruelty to cockroaches?  People go out of their way to kill millions of these motherfuckers every day.

    I suspect these “save the roach” types have never actually lived in a place with a roach problem.

    And this?!:

    Kind of makes me wonder if perhaps they developed their warped ethical compass by listening to too much rap music.

    I didn’t realize Tipper Gore was reading BoingBoing.

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