Curricula

3D rendering of Synaptic Aquarium cell body, with blue LEDs

Content

Neuroscience of Superpowers – description, syllabus, lecture and problem set
Outreach Activities – descriptions and content downloads
Synaptic Aquarium – description and content downloads


Neuroscience of Superpowers (BEAM 4985)

I developed all the content for this one-semester systems neuroscience course. The class met twice a week (75 min classes), and time was split between lecture (55 min), and discussion (20 min). This course used comparative physiology and explorations in current biomedical technology to determine if and how “super” physical abilities (e.g., shapeshifting, X-ray vision) can be bestowed to humans. Student were required to contribute to a weekly blog, in which the exercised their ability to communicate science to the public, and research biomedical technology. This regular assignment increased aptitude for working across disciplines (e.g., biology, biomedical mechanics, epigenetics).

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Outreach activities

I have organized and participated in various outreach events for the community over the past 10 years. Below are links to various items I have made for interaction and distribution to the general public.

Virginia Science Fest (2015) –
Infographic and bookmarks share information about where flying snakes (Chrysopelea) are found, how they glide, and what we know about them. Written for the general public (assumed middle-school science knowledge).

Ear pinna activity –
How does the shape of your outer ear (the pinna) affect sound? This guide includes instructions for making pinnae that students can place over their ears, and an activity for determining how sound detection changes with specific ear shapes. This activity was designed for grades 7-9, and teaches about hypotheses and their role in research and exploration.

Visual Acuity Apps (Virginia Science Fest 2018)

When determining distance and size, our visual systems use information that is spatially close to the targeted object to make inferences about size and depth. This demonstration ideally includes 2D optical illusions like the one below, in complement with the two apps, to help demonstrate how we visually determine if something is large and far away, or small and up close. This demo is intended for users of all ages, and does not rely on extensive explanation or literacy to teach concepts of visual processing.

depthillusion
The three blocks are the same size

The Frog and Fly demonstration (below) lets users guess which object is closer, then follows a path to the farthest object, and lets the user know if they are right or wrong.

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The Forest Navigation demonstration  invites users navigate a forest floor, avoiding collisions with trees. As the levels progress, the visual distance shortens (fog density increases), showing the user the ability to perceive depth affects timing in making correct visual decisions. The visual design is simple, as it is the same stimulus shown to snakes in a virtual arena.

Forestgame_screenshot.jpg

These apps can be adapted for VR (Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard).

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Synaptic Aquarium

The Synaptic Aquarium was a neuron model network that demonstrated information transfer through a neural population. The Synaptic Aquarium was an immersive neuroscience installation at Burning Man (2013-2016), which encouraged participants to learn about neural activity by exploring and observing. This system showed neural behaviors, such as summation of information at the cell body, and firing of action potentials, at rates observable to the eye (1/300x natural rates). Developments continue to make the installation interactive; wherein users can change state spaces of the system (for example, give the system caffeine and observe effects).

For this installation, I wrote programming for the individual neuron (Hodgkin-Huxley), created the network connections and features, assisted with physical design and builds, provided any requisite biological information to developers, and contributed to final design elements (color, rate, lighting density). I am currently continuing work developing interactive elements (changing neurochemical levels, augmenting network connectivity).

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Want more? Please contact Dr. Z with your curriculum questions!