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Backyard Brains: On neuroscience and cockroach legs

Wednesday October 24, 2012

Matthew Gannon

CNN TECH - (CNN) -- Neuroscience may not be for everyone. But Backyard Brains co-founder Greg Gage hopes to make it a little less intimidating and a lot more accessible.

Gage believes that basic neuroscience research is the answer to curing many of the most devastating neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Greg Gage and his partner Tim Marzullo hope to make learning about the brain easy and accessible for all ages and income levels. With a simple do-it-yourself approach they started a company that creates affordable kits for learning about the brain. Gage hopes to show students that neuroscience can be fun and, in the process, inspire the next generation of neuroscientists.

One of the products they designed, called the SpikerBox, allows users to record and stimulate neurons from things such as insects and display the neural activity on devices like iPhones via custom apps. Gage hopes that with these tools, kids of all ages will be able to learn about how the brain communicates.

A short video recently posted by Backyard Brains showing squid skin cells stimulated by an iPod has been a hit on YouTube -- evidence that this visual and interactive approach to neuroscience can appeal to the masses. Through these simple, entry-level devices created from off-the-shelf electronics, Backyard Brains hopes to inspire the next generation of neuroscientists and start the "neuro-revolution."

Gage sat down with CNN at TED 2012 in Long Beach, California, to talk about Backyard Brains.

CNN: Tell us about why you started Backyard Brains?

Gage: The idea was that we wanted to take really expensive and really complicated neuroscience techniques and make it easy enough and affordable enough that you can use it in high school and even down to the fifth-grade level.

CNN: Why is teaching neuroscience important?

Gage: Because one out of five of us, that's 20% of the entire world, will be diagnosed with a neurological disorder, and when it comes to treating these diseases, we're in the dark ages. The only way to get out of it is through basic neuroscience research. By reaching back into the education process early you can get kids interested in the brain. We want to make kits that get kids interested and working with the brain so they get turned on to that and want to become that in the future.

CNN: What do you hope to accomplish with Backyard Brains in the future?

Gage: These (SpikerBoxes) are just the beginning of where we want to go. We want to bring the technology that just came out a few years ago in the latest fields like optogenetics and bring that into the high school classroom. In the next 10 to 15 years we want professors to tell us that the number of applicants that come into the lab that have already done experiments or that have already been thinking about this for years is on the rise. We want to start to have the "neuro-revolution" by having new students that are already interested in the brain beginning to understand and solve the diseases that we have today. We just really need to push the science further to help us cure these diseases.

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