Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Amazing Video: Learning Neuroscience by Making a Cockroach Dance

Greg Gage is on a mission to get kids excited about neuroscience by helping them understand how the brain works — in ways that are extremely memorable. He sells $100 kits that teach how neurons work by putting electricity through cockroach limbs and living cockroaches.

One of the most amazing and unexpected experiences I had at the TED conference a couple weeks ago was getting to do one of Gage’s experiments myself. I tracked him down after reading that he was one of 25 invited TED fellows, and before I knew it, I was in a random hallway in the bowels of the convention center, wrestling a squirmy cockroach into my own experiment.

First, Gage had me anesthetize a cockroach by dousing it in a glass of ice water, then sever one of its legs (they grow back), plug in a couple of electrodes, and then listen and watch neurons through an app on his iPad.

There’s actually a really great video of this same experiment, taken from when Gage performed it for an audience of kids. TED just released it today, as part of its new education initiative.

In the video, Gage shows how the living neurons in the cockroach leg can be pulsed with bass from music, and then brings out a live beatboxer on stage to show the cockroach leg dancing to the beat. Read that last sentence again, or just watch the video. It’s pretty crazy.

What’s wackier than a dancing severed limb? A cyborg cockroach. The next product from Gage’s neuroscience education company, Backyard Brains, helps kids surgically attach to a cockroach’s back an electronic pack that can be remote controlled. Then, sending a stimulus to either the right or left antenna nerve prompts the cockroach to turn in that direction. More on that here.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald