Monday, January 30, 2012

Listening to cells spike with your phone

In 1992, Linder and Palka proposed using a very simple cockroach leg preparation to teach students about neuroscience; specifically to teach them about the most visible electrical property of the neuron, the action potential.  The company Backyard Brains expanded and modernized this idea by creating the SpikerBox, an inexpensive, portable way to record action potentials. And now you can download their app for your smart phone!

A quote from their download site explains it all:
"When was the first time you heard the sound of a brain cell? Was it in elementary school, high school, or college? Chances are your answer is "never," as we neuroscientists have typically had to go to major research universities and use expensive equipment to learn about and investigate the brain.
With the SpikerBox (available open-source from you can now listen to living neurons from insects. With this android app, you can view what the spikes of neurons look like and record it to your phone for later analysis. What used to take up a whole room you now have in your hand, and for cheap. Think of it!"
I have not tried this app for the phone or the spikerbox, so I cannot speak from experience, but I did visit their poster (the most interactive 'poster' I have ever been to) at 2011 Society for Neuroscience meeting. There they demonstrated the cockroach leg preparation and the simple use of the spikerbox. 
Here is their commercial that shows how the spikerbox works:

I am so on board with the mission of this company, to make basic, cellular-level neuroscience accessible for everyone.

One more thing: I have never blogged about a company before, so I just want to let everyone know that I am in no way affiliated with, and have no commercial interest in Backyard Brains, I just think that they are really cool. 

Readers, I am curious have any of you tried this? seen it? what did you think? Linder TM, & Palka J (1992). A student apparatus for recording action potentials in cockroach legs. The American journal of physiology, 262 (6 Pt 3) PMID: 1616063

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