DUCK TALES: Cockroach gives prof leg up on neuroscience
You’d be surprised what you can learn from a cockroach.
Paul Dassonville, an associate professor in psychology and the Institute of Neuroscience, uses the common cockroach – or, more precisely, the legs of one – in an unforgettable classroom demonstration about the brain’s neural connections.
After snipping a leg from an anesthetized cockroach, Dassonville connects the leg to electrodes that are wired up to an iPod. With that, the disembodied leg literally “dances” to the music, twitching in perfect rhythm with the beat.
What’s happening? The electrodes convert the iPod music into electrical signals that pass through the cockroach leg, activating nerves and causing muscles to contract. Neurons in the brain work in a similar fashion, communicating with each other partly through electrical transmissions, Dassonville said.
Dassonville performed the demo recently with visiting high school students in UO’s Summer Academy to Inspire Learning (SAIL), a program led by volunteer faculty to increase the number of low-income students enrolling and succeeding in college. The students were stunned to see their favorite hip-hop and classic rock tunes become a moving experience – literally – for the body part of an insect.
“If you have the volume on really loud, the leg moves a lot,” Dassonville said. “Guitar riffs are better than bass.”
“Duck Tales” is a regular feature of Inside Oregon, focusing on the lighter side of faculty/staff life at the UO. Contact Matt Cooper at email@example.com if you have story suggestions.