Cooper Union Interns Test Roaches To Help Humans
Some high school students are spending the summer experimenting on creepy crawlies to understand how technology can help humans. NY1’s Adam Balkin filed the following report.
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When most people see cockroaches, their first instinct is to figure out the quickest way to squash them. Some high school students at Cooper Union’s summer internship program, though, pick them up, examine and operate on them to turn the insects into a sort of robo-cockroaches in order to learn about neuroscience.
“The cockroaches in general have applications in terms of neural prosthetics, so we're trying to design a way to communicate with the brain, and it would be to replace lost brain function,” says Robert Uglesich of Cooper Union. “So they’re taking a little bit of the antenna off and putting a fine wire in there that will send signals which are surrogates for what normally would be picked up from the world.”
Using controllers from toy "Hexbugs," the students can then use those signals to try and control the cockroach's movements.
They're also able to send other stimuli, in this case Lady Gaga music, directly into the roach's sensory system to see how it responds to that.
Believe it or not, some of the students say they're actually growing a bit fond of these cockroaches for the hope they may hold for humans.
“In the future, for example, we could have neuroprosthetics for humans which can restore lost brain functions, and that's just one innovation that can be based on this,” says Dumichel Harley, a student in the program.
“I was between a premed track and a computer science track, and so I find it really interesting to see how these two fields can be interrelated,” says Flora Tan, another student.
Incidentally, there are two other critter-related projects being worked on in the lab by summer interns. Some look at tiny worms made up entirely of stem cells to see how their ability to regenerate parts could potentially help people do the same. Others examine how crayfish can help lead to treatments for Parkinson's Disease.
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