About Gregory

Bio

I am a DIY Neuroscientist who enjoys designing low-cost experiments that teach the basic principles of the brain. I co-founded Backyard Brains a few years ago to bring our neuroscience inventions to high schools, middle schools and the public. The "Aha!" moment was when we realized we could use insects easily in the classroom. Bugs have very similar neurons to ours. So in learning about their brains, we are in fact learning about our own!

The brain is a mystery to most people. The goal of our work is to make it easier for the public to inquire about neuroscience through hands-on experiments. So what are these experiments, exactly? Low costs versions of electrophysiology (Seeing and hearing the brain of insects on your iPad), functional electrical stimulation (making muscles move using an iPod), micro-stimulation (a remote-controlled cockroach), neuropharmacology (Cigarettes have nicotine, nicotine binds to ACh receptors), and even optogenetics!

Come talk to me at TED. Chances are I will have some experiments with me. If you've never heard a spike before... I will show you. We've demonstrated what our brain sounds and looks like to over 15,000 people! We are always looking for more.

Languages

English

TED Conferences

TEDGlobal 2014, TED2014, TED Fellows Retreat 2013, TEDGlobal 2013, TED2013, TED2012

Areas of Expertise

Electronics, Neuroscience

Talk to me about

Talk to me in Spanish. I just moved to Chile last year. I am trying to learn!

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

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Gregory Gage
Posted 9 months ago
Greg Gage: The cockroach beatbox
Hi Michelle - I don't understand your argument, exactly. There doesn't have to be a slippery slope when it comes to science. We chose the cockroach as an animal model of humans. We believe the benefits of these experiments far outweigh the cost due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current age. We have received several messages from adults and parents of children with neurological afflictions thanking us for making neuroscience easier to understand. We are constantly surveying the animal kingdom for easier and less invasive ways of unequivocally demonstrating neural activity. The cockroach leg preparation is the best we have found so far.
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted about 2 years ago
Greg Gage: The cockroach beatbox
Great to hear! We have many more experiments on our wiki: http://wiki.backyardbrains.com We have experiments on neuropharmacology, somatotopy, neuroprosthetics, measuring the speed of an action potential, and much more!
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted about 2 years ago
Greg Gage: The cockroach beatbox
Thanks Emily. While many pest control love to talk about diseases of cockroaches, historically, I think they have been given a bum wrap! Unlike the plague (fleas), west nile virus/malaria (mosquitos), african sleeping sickness (tsetse fly), we couldn't find any diseases that were carried by roaches. Also, our roaches live in a terrarium we clean each week. But as you point out, it is always a good idea to use gloves. When we do these experiments in class, we have powder free latex gloves available for students.
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted over 2 years ago
Showing experiments on live animals to young kids, regardless of what kind of animal, can be considered part of an educational program?
Thank you for commenting. It is good to hear other's perspectives. Tools for investigating neuroscience have been severely lacking in high schools and undergraduate university education. The SpikerBox and related experiments was our initial attempt to help solve this. It is not, however, without controversy. Some of which you pointed out. I will try to address your concerns below. 1) Does the audience actually learn anything new? We have recently published a peer-reviewed paper in PLoS ONE showing that our tools increase understanding of neuroscience concepts. Marzullo TC, Gage GJ (2012) The SpikerBox: A Low Cost, Open-Source BioAmplifier for Increasing Public Participation in Neuroscience Inquiry. PLoS ONE 7(3) e30837. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030837. PMID: 22470415 PMCID: PMC3310049. 2) The graphs are mostly for fun and give us an excuse to pull out our iPhones. This is not the case in our experiments. If you read through the student exercises (http://wiki.backyardbrains.com), you will find that data are analyzed by graphs and are used to test hypotheses. Also, iPhones are used as a scientific tool to collect data and deliver stimuli. 3) Where is the mention of ethics? We sometimes receive ethical criticism for our work. Which is understandable. Regarding your specific criticism, I refer you to “You are causing pain in the animals and that is inhumane" on our statement of ethics: http://ethics.backyardbrains.com
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted over 2 years ago
Greg Gage: The cockroach beatbox
For the stimulation experiment, you only need an MP3 player (or laptop) and an audio cable. You will need to cut the cable, and solder some pins to the ground and signals. It may take some time, but it will not cost much money. There are more details about microstimulation to get you started on a Science Fair project here: http://wiki.backyardbrains.com/Experiment%3A_Microstimulation Let us know what you find out!
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted over 2 years ago
Greg Gage: The cockroach beatbox
Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) works on this same principle, and is used to move paralyzed muscles in humans who have suffered a stroke or Spinal Cord Injured. The Cleveland FES Center is leading the way with this research. About unprocessed raw meats, muscle contraction requires ATP, which in turn requires oxygen. In mammals, this lack of oxygen causes rigor mortis (a chemical change) in the muscles that makes them stiff an immovable after a few hours.
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted over 2 years ago
Showing experiments on live animals to young kids, regardless of what kind of animal, can be considered part of an educational program?
I am trying to understand your argument. You claim that it is OK to kill bugs if they bother you, so long as you feel bad about doing it... but it is not OK to use bugs to demonstrate science, even if they are used humanely and aren't killed. You also state we are exhibiting cruelty to animals, which I don't believe to be the case. We make sure to anesthetize all our animals when we do experiments, and we explain this to students. We actually don’t know if insects feel pain, but we do make the assumption that they do, which is why we anesthetize them in the first place. Whether the cockroach feels pain when it wakes up from the surgery and detects a missing leg, we do not know. All we is know is that the wound heals, the cockroaches are walking around within hours, eating lettuce, making more cockroaches, and if they are juvenile, the leg grows back. It’s very important to avoid anthropomorphizing the cockroach with thoughts like “If I do not want my own leg cut off, then the cockroach does not want its leg cut off.” We recommend the following RadioLab show that extensively interviews an entomologist describing his own problems anthropomorphizing insects: http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2012/feb/06/killer-empathy/ Finally, stimulating minds through hands-on experiments and activities is not a straw man. There are are a number of studies that have been published over the past several decades noting the "hands-on" teaching is an improvement on lecture based teaching. See: Stohr-Hunt P. (1996) An Analysis of Frequency of Hands-on Experience and Science Achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 33: 101-109 Geier R, Blumenfeld PC, Marx RW, Krajcik JS, Fishman B, et al. (2008) Standardized Test Outcomes for Students Engaged in Inquiry-Based Science Curricula in the Context of Urban Reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 45: 922–939.
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted over 2 years ago
Showing experiments on live animals to young kids, regardless of what kind of animal, can be considered part of an educational program?
I do think live animal experiments have a place in kid's education. The experiments that were presented in the cockroach beatbox video are not philosophically perfect and not without controversy. However, our team (Backyard Brains) believe the benefits far outweigh the cost due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current age. We have received many messages of encouragement from adults and parents of children with neurological afflictions, thanking us for making neuroscience easier to understand. One out of five people will be diagnosed with a neurological disorder which has no known cure. The goal of our efforts is to inspire students to study the brain, through compelling demonstrations and experiments. We are constantly surveying the animal kingdom for easier and less invasive ways of unequivocally demonstrating neural activity. The cockroach leg preparation is the best we have found so far. We respect those who have a differing and important opinion. For a detailed discussion on specific ethical concerns, please feel free to read our statement regarding the use of invertebrates in science education at: http://ethics.backyardbrains.com/
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted over 2 years ago
Greg Gage: The cockroach beatbox
The citation is: Marzullo TC, Gage GJ (2012) The SpikerBox: A Low Cost, Open-Source BioAmplifier for Increasing Public Participation in Neuroscience Inquiry. PLoS ONE 7(3): e30837. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030837 I agree with your suggestion... we think that would be better too! We are working on shrinking our circuitry so that it can be used on intact insects. This will also allow students to see what the neurons do in an awake, behaving cockroach.
141520
Gregory Gage
Posted over 2 years ago
Greg Gage: The cockroach beatbox
Many people have raised an interesting question: How does the ice bath work as a general anesthetic in the case of the cockroach? The answer lies in how "spikes" are generated. Neurons fire spikes by the mechanical opening and closing of tiny ion channels which allow the voltage to change inside the cell. By lowering the temperature with ice water, these ion channels cannot open. When these channels cannot open, neurons cannot fire and the nervous system is temporarily shut down. Since this is an induced and reversible state across all neurons, it is considered a general anesthetic. We have published data that shows this reversible effect of temperature on neurons in the cockroach. The cockroach can stay anesthetized like this for many hours and will recover in ~5-20 minutes of leaving the ice bath. It should be noted that this is not the same as "paralyzing" the insect. Paralyzing implies that only the motor system is disabled during the ice bath. But this is not the case. All neurons use similar ion channels.