This is a great introductory experiment to get you started with spikes!
Your brain uses a combination of chemicals and electricity to operate. Brain Cells (neurons) need to communicate with each other to control your body. A brain with only 1 neuron is not a brain.
A brain is a network (friendship) of neurons. But how do neurons talk to each other? One of the the first ways cells used to network was chemical communication.
Bacteria use this method. It works well, but is limited by diffusion. For example, when you fart, how long does it take for someone on the edge of the room to smell it? There should be a faster way. One way is to bring cells closer together through stretching.
But there is still a problem. The signal still needs to travel a long way through the cell. Is there a way to make this faster? What is very fast & important today?
Electricity! Notice how fast the lights in your house turn on when you flick the switch. Neurons use electricity as well; electrical pulses travel down the neurons This pulse is called the
We at Backyard Brains have dedicated our lives to studying spikes, and you can too! But first, some biology. 380 million years of evolution bring you the cockroach. We will use the Discoid cockroach (Blaberus discoidalis), or false death’s head. They live in the Amazon rainforest of South America under the bark of rotting trees.
Like all animals (beyond creatures like sea sponges), cockroaches’ bodies are filled with nerves to control movement & sensation, among many other things. Let’s begin.
- Take a cockroach & put it in a jar of ice water. Wait a few minutes until it stops moving.
- Remove the cockroach, and cut off one of his legs near the body, so that you end up with a leg like this:
- Put some petroleum jelly (or low temp wax) on the exposed wound of the leg & accompanying spot on the cockroach body. Return Cockroach to its house. It'll be fine, the leg will grow back if the cockroach is not a full grown adult yet (Adults have wings, nymphs don't).
- Place the leg on the cork of your SpikerBox, allowing a bit of the leg to overhang, like this:
- And put the two electrodes in:
- Turn your SpikerBox on! If you hear a popcorn sound, congratulations, you have just heard your first neuron!
- Now let's see what the electrical discharge looks like. Plug your sound cable from the SpikerBox into your iPhone or into the microphone input of your computer.Turn on “Backyard Brains” (iPhone) or Audacity (laptop). You should see:
- Zoom in, & the spikes look like:
- This is due to ion channels opening and closing in the neurons, causing the pulse.