As I stumbled back deep into the UU section (the end) of the afternoon SfN poster session in search of coffee, I noticed a bit of a crowd surrounding a poster board, in rapt attention. As I approached they started laughing and clapping. This is unusual. There is rarely a crowd back in the History / Teaching (and now Ethics) section of the poster sessions.
I decided to investigate.
Marzullo and Gage (Large Midwestern Research University) presented a poster describing their efforts to develop a protocol for studying neuronal activity on a budget...
When one thinks of electrophysiology, one normally envisions sophisticated panels of glowing LEDs on complex recording equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars. But does this necessarily need to be the case? Does electrophysiology really need to be out of reach of the amateur or budget-restricted scientist? What if you were to leave your lab tomorrow? What if the zombie apocalypse happened, you somehow survived, and you still wanted to do neuroscience?
..a very tight budget.
Their submitted abstract lays out the goal of the study:
We here present a self-imposed engineering challenge. If we have a standard PC laptop and a cricket caught in the back yard, can we record a spike (action potential) for under $100 using components purchased solely from local neighborhood hardware stores and Radioshack?
Ahh, we harken back to an age of gentleman scientists. Well, perhaps "Clerks" meets Newton style, but still...
The authors presented the four prototype recording rigs along with an assortment of parts and equipment required for construction. Here in the figure one can easily observe the development cycle. Apparently "rigidity" was the primary difficulty for the mechanical engineering of the rig.
The reason for the rapt and appreciative audience was the presentation of the poster, aptly accomplished by each author (what can I say, I stuck around for the encore). The authors employed the flip-board technique to great effect. Allegedly the presentation was honed at the bar the night before although this is unverified. Here the first author illustrates the potential sources for equipment following a hypothetical zombie apocalypse.
I learned all kinds of good stuff including the fact that the ovaries on a female cricket pose difficulties in locating neuronal ganglia.
Apparently these investigators had to pull another abstract they had submitted entitled "From cell fate to human fate decisions: the role of notch signaling in global conflicts".
They also mentioned that their pseudonymous affiliation was adopted at the request of their powers that be. Booo. Any institution should be happy to be associated with clever and humorous efforts.
Well done and thanks for the laugh, guys!
The authors pose for a picture
UPDATE: Marzullo posted the following video of the performance.