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This week, Grade V performed neural interface surgery on cockroaches during science class. The experiment is called RoboRoach and comes from a company called Backyard Brains.
In class, the students and teacher Becky Lewis spent a great deal of time talking about the brain and neurological disorders. Grade V seems to have many budding neuroscientists. Although the girls could have picked any project, they were fascinated by the cockroaches and the printed circuit board (PCB) backpack.
Scientists are using this technology to study neural impulses and even make advances in the study of Parkinson's disease where electrodes may be implanted in a brain of a patient to stop tremors. Our girls are compassionate and brave. Concerned for the roaches, the class researched the ethics of the experiment and worked to ensure the cockroaches would be sent to a roach retirement facility to live out their life when the experiment is complete. The average roach lives two years and Backyard Brains offered to take the roaches back for us to retire them appropriately.
The class is very grateful to one of the parents who donated the funds to make this possible and provide the girls with this once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform surgery on a cockroach.
During the first stages of their “RoboRoach” experiment, the students learned about the anatomy and nervous system of a cockroach. Once the insects were anesthetized using ice water, students glued electrodes onto the backs of cockroaches. Then, the PCB backpacks were connected to antennae and sensory nerves using wires, pins, silly putty, and super glue. The following day, once electrodes were turned on, students were able to control the cockroaches’ movements by sending signals to the electrodes using an iPad application. Although these critters made some adult onlookers cringe, the Grade V students were fearless roach-handlers!
Cockroaches, unlike humans, have a decentralized nervous system. However, the functions of their nervous system operate much like a human’s while structurally simpler. These characteristics make these usually unwelcomed insects the perfect specimen for this experiment.
To see photos from class, click here.