Backyard Brains aims to bring cerebral education to schools

The brain might seem like one big mystery to some folks, but it's pretty simple to Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo.

The neuroscientists and co-founders of Backyard Brains are taking advantage of this, creating cheap kits than can show grade-school students how the brain works in real time.

"We call ourselves Johnny Appleseeds," Gage says. "Instead of seeds, we're planting knowledge about neurons."

The duo teach how the brain works in local schools, and about a year ago decided there had to be an easier (and cheaper) way to do this while reaching more people. So they decided to take on a $100 laptop-style project focusing on creating a kit to show how the brain's neurons work with simple parts purchased at a local RadioShack.

"Can you record neurons for less than $100?" Gage posits. "We spent last summer trying to figure this out and now we're able to do it."

That led to the "Spiker Box," a $100 kit that students can put together to measure the brain waves of insects commonly found in one's backyard. Gage points out that an insect's brain is remarkably similar to that of a human.

Right now the company, based in the TechArb in downtown Ann Arbor, is self-funding a small manufacturing run of its prototype. The two-person-plus-interns firm plans to double in size within the next year, as it expects to reach mass manufacturing of its products. It's also looking at developing an iPhone application.

Source: Greg Gage, co-founder of Backyard Brains
Writer: Jon Zemke