Neurons, the nerve cells that send and receive electrical signals within the body, are one of those things that most of us probably don’t give a lot of thought to. Educational entrepreneurs Timothy Marzullo and Gregory Gage, however, think about them a lot. They think about them so much, in fact, that they’ve designed a gadget that lets anyone listen to the neural electrical activity of bugs, and conduct a series of interesting experiments. It’s called the SpikerBox, and oh yeah – in order to use it, you have to take the leg off of a cockroach.

The SpikerBox essentially consists of a microprocessor, a speaker, and two neural probes (also known as metal needles). Everything is powered by a single 9-volt battery.

Users start by grabbing a handy invertebrate, such as a cockroach or cricket, and briefly dunking it in ice water to anesthetize it. They then carefully cut off one of its legs, which Marzullo and Gage assure us will grow back. Next, that leg is placed on a surface such as a cork board. One probe is then stuck into the base of the leg, to serve as a ground, while the other is placed higher up and serves as a recording electrode.

As soon as the device is turned on, users will be able to hear a popping sound over its speaker. That sound is the neurons firing in the still-living leg. Scientifically-curious types can then poke at the leg, to hear how the neural activity increases when it’s touched. Other experiments (some of which involve whole live crickets or earthworms) include observing how neurons are affected by hot and cold temperatures, neuroactive chemicals, or an external electrical signal. Instructions are available on the company website.

Additionally, the device can be hooked up to an iOS or Android device running a custom app, providing users with a visual display of the neural activity.

The SpikerBox can be seen in use in the video below. It’s available now, for US$99.98.

Cockroaches are extra.

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