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Insane in the Chromatophores

During experiments on the giant axons of the Longfin Inshore Squid (loligo pealei) at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA; we were fascinated by the fast color-changing nature of the squid’s skin. Squids (like many other cephalopods) can quickly control pigmented cells called chromatophores to reflect light. The Longfin Inshore has 3 different chromatophore colors: Brown, Red, and Yellow. Each chromatophore has tiny muscles along the circumference of the cell that can contract to reveal the pigment underneath.

We tested our cockroach leg stimulus protocol on the squid’s chromatophores. We used a suction electrode to attach to the squid’s fin nerve, then connected the electrode to an iPod nano as our stimulator. The results were both interesting and beautiful. The video below is a view through an 8x microscope zoomed in on the dorsal side of the fin.

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We’d like to give a shout out to our gracious and brilliant hosts for making this possible: the Methods in Computational Neuroscience and the Neuroinformatics Courses at the MBL. Paloma T. Gonzalez-Bellido of Roger Hanlon’s Lab in the Marine Resource Center of the Marine Biological Labs helped us with the preparation. Paloma studies iridophores (iridescent cells) of the squid. You can read their latest paper at the The Royal Society.

Update: There are some questions as to what is happening and how this works. An iPod plays music by converting digital music to a small current that it sends to tiny magnets in the earbuds. The magnets are connected to cones that vibrate and produce sound.

Since this is the same electrical current that neurons use to communicate, we cut off the ear buds and instead placed the wire into the fin nerve. When the iPod sends bass frequencies (<100Hz) the axons in the nerves have enough charge to fire an action potential. This will in turn cause the muscles in the chromatophores to contract.

A better explanation as well as a few more demos can be found on our TED talk:

Construye tu proprio SpikerBox – Sábado Julio 7 – Inaugural Sud America Workshop – Sign up Today!

Aprende neurociencia con El SpikerBox. Arma el Tuyo y Llévatelo. ¿Te intriga saber cómo funciona tu cerebro?, ¿Te has preguntado alguna vez cómo suenan y cómo se ven realmente las señales neuronales?, ¿Te gusta hacer experimentos? Bueno, ¡este es tu día de suerte!

El objetivo de este taller es convertirte en todo un neurocientífico! Aprenderás las habilidades necesarias para estudiar el cerebro a un nivel que pocas personas han llegado. Vas a construir tu propio equipo para estudiar neuronas. ¿No sabes de electrónica, ni cómo soldar? No te preocupes, nosotros te enseñamos. No se necesita experiencia previa.

Primero, haremos demostraciones con insectos para que puedas entender cómo funciona su cerebro. Luego, te guiaremos por los pasos para construir tu propio SpikerBox (amplificador). Cada uno recibirá las piezas necesariaspara hacerlo, además de instrucciones paso a paso para soldar cada componente en su lugar.

Y luego, ¡es hora de hacer ciencia! Vamos a guiarte por un montón de divertidos experimentos que puedes hacer con tu SpikerBox. Vamos a aprender sobre las “Spikes”, la “Tasa de Codificación”, el efecto de la temperatura sobre las neuronas, la velocidad de transmisión de las neuronas, y cómo la electricidad puede hacer que los músculos se muevan.

Además podrás ver demostraciones de nuestro RoboRoach (nuestra Cucaracha a control remoto) y ver un avance de algunos equipos y experimentos aún no lanzados.

Profesores: Tim Marzullo & Greg Gage;

Fecha: sábado 7 de julio

Horario: 10:00 – 16:30 hrs. Incluye un descanso con pizza incluida para recargar energías

Lugar: Santiago MakerSpace at Av Italia 850A (cerca de Salvador y Bilbao)

Valor: $45.000 (Materiales incluidos)

+info e inscripción:

(In English)

Teachers: Tim Marzullo & Greg Gage;

Date: Saturday, July 7th

Hours: 10:00 – 16:30 hrs. Includes lunch pizza break to recharge

The placeSantiago MakerSpace at Av Italia 850A (near the intersection of Salvador and Francisco Bilbao)

Cost: $45,000 pesos (that’s approximately $90 U.S.). All materials and tools included.

The Santiago Make and Take Workshop
Curious how your brain works? Have you ever wondered what the “spikes” of neurons really look and sound like? Do you like doing experiments? Well you are in luck! Backyard Brains is conducting a workshop at the new Santiago HackerSpace just for you

The goal of this workshop is to make you a neuroscience expert! You will learn the skills to study the brain at a level that few people have ever done! You will build your own equipment to study neurons. Not sure how to solder or make electronics? No worries, we will teach you. No experience necessary.

First, we will provide demonstrations with insects so you understand how their brains work from the outside. Then we will guide you through how to build your own SpikerBoxes (amplifiers). Everyone will receive the parts required to build, plus step-by-step instructions on how to solder each component in place.

Then, it’s time for science! We’ll go through a whole bunch of fun experiments you can do with your new SpikerBox. We will learn about “Spikes”,”Rate Coding”, how temperature affects neurons, the speed of neurons, and how electricity can make muscles move!

You will also see demonstrations of our RoboRoach (our remote controlled Cockroach) and preview some new yet-to-be-released devices and experiments. E-mail us at to sign up!

High School Students in Iowa Produce Video of Backyard Brains Experiments.

Science Teacher Joshua Hanna, of Malcolm Price Laboratory School, a high school affiliated with the University of Northern Iowa, recently sent us this video his students made (with zero input from us) after learning some neuroscience with our gear this Spring. We became rather emotional watching it; the video was finished the last day of the school….THE last day. The lab school, which has been in operation since 1955, was shut down this early summer as a financial decision by the University.

“Today is the last day of school for our students (Literally as our school is closing…) but a few of my students really wanted to wrap up and get out to you guys a video they made about our classroom spiker box activities and neural science unit. ”

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We thank the hardworking teachers of Malcolm Price (and inspired teachers everywhere) for taking a risk with our young company and using our gear to teach their students about neurophysiology. The NeuroRevolution continues to turn…