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Open Source Science: Learn to Fly

February 20, 2020

Yesterday, Lex and I participated in a “hack chat” over on hackaday.io. The log of the chat is now posted on the hackaday.io site. A few topics came up that we felt deserved more attention, especially the non-research uses of open source hardware developed for neuroscience applications. Today’s post is about those topics.

For me, it has become clear that there is a major need for trainees (and many faculty) to learn the basic skill set needed to make use of the open source tools that we feature on OpenBehavior. In my own teaching at American University, I run a course for undergraduates (and graduate students too, if they want to take it) that covers the basics on Python and Arduino programming, how to use Jupyter notebooks, how to connect Python with R and GNU Octave (rpy2 and oct2py), and how to do simple hardware projects with Arduinos. The students build a simple rig for running reaction time experiments, collect some data, analyze their own data, and then develop extension experiments to run on their own. We also cover a lot of other issues, like never using the jet colormap and why pandas is awesome. Last year, we partnered with Backyard Brains and brought their muscle spiker box and Neurorobots into the course, with major help from Chris Harris (and of course Greg Gage, who has been a long time supporter of open source science).

Yesterday in the chat, I learned that I have not been alone in developing such content. Andre Maia Chagas at the University of Sussex is working on his own set of tools for training folks to build and make open source devices for neuroscience research. Another site that you might check out is Lab On The Cheap. They have done a lot of posts on how to make lab equipment yourself, for a lot less than any commercial vendor will be able to charge.

In reflecting on all of these activities late last night, I was reminded of this amazing video from 2015 in which 1000 musicians play Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters to ask Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters to come and play in Cesena, Italy. To me, the awesomeness of what is currently happening in open source neuroscience is kind of like this video. We just need to work together to make stuff happen, and we can have a blast along the way.

-Mark


Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JozAmXo2bDE

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