Boyd-Buchanan Students Create Cockroach Biobots In Neuroscience Lab

  • Friday, March 15, 2013

Boyd-Buchanan AP Biology students are learning about action potentials and nerve transmission in their current study of neuroscience.  Jim Marlowe, Boyd-Buchanan’s AP Biology teacher, is using an extremely cutting edge method in his neuroscience lab as he instructs on these topics.  His students are studying the brain and developing an understanding of how nerves work using a common cockroach.


Marlowe’s students are taking these invertebrates and turning them into biobots using an extremely humane process that takes several days to complete.  The students begin the process by submerging the cockroaches in freezing water for one to two minutes.  This freezing water provides an anesthetic effect to the cockroach.  While the cockroach is still “under anesthesia,” the students remove the antennae and place finite electrical leads through these holes into the “brain.”  These tiny wires lead to a circuit box that is attached to the bug’s back.  The cockroach is given another day to get used to this device before students begin working with it.  Mr. Marlowe said, “This process requires great skill on the part of the student.”  He equates this preparation of the cockroach to a surgical procedure.

Once the cockroach has adapted to the circuit box, the students begin stimulating the cockroach using a handheld remote control.  The students are able to control the cockroaches directional movement as the circuit box sends an electrical impulse through the leads to the cockroach. They cannot make the bug start or stop moving, but this ability to control a living creature’s direction with a remote control is nothing short of remarkable. 

Researchers at North Carolina State University just began experimenting with cockroaches in this manner in September of 2012.  Once such researcher, Alper Bozkurt, said, “Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces.  Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that’s been destroyed by an earthquake.”

The research that began on a university-level a little over six months ago, is now providing quite an innovative way to for Mr. Marlowe to teach neuroscience.  Mr. Marlowe’s teaching method is receiving rave reviews by students and faculty alike at Boyd-Buchanan School.

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