In this video excerpt from NOVA scienceNOW, find out how a paralyzed woman manipulates a robotic arm with her mind to successfully drink from a cup. Correspondent and New York Times technology columnist David Pogue explores this experiment conducted by the BrainGate research team of doctors, scientists, and engineers. BrainGate investigators explain the placement of a sensor on the brain of a stroke victim, how a person's arm moves, and how complex the brain's control of movement is. This resource is useful for introducing components of Engineering Design (ETS) from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to grade 6-12 students.
This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.
Visit the program page here.
For even more information related to neural signaling and movement of the limbs, refer students to The Electrical Activity of Dr. Jessell's Arm, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's 2008 Holiday Lecture Series.
Teaching Tips for Grades 6-8
Performance Expectations: MS-ETS1-1; MS-ETS1-4
ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions
ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution
Engineering Practices: Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models
Defining a problem or need, developing models, designing and optimizing solutions are components of engineering design. While watching this video, students are faced with this problem: how to translate the thoughts of a paralyzed woman into the motion of a robotic arm.
After watching the video: Ask your students to identify the problem and constraints. The problem involves translating human thoughts into the motion of a robotic arm. Some of the constraints include: Sensor must be small, compatible with the brain, and able to send an electrical signal based on thoughts. Students recognize and identify the problem and its constraints for this design problem, part of the Engineering Practice, Defining Problems. Have your students do something similar: Reach out and pick up an object with one hand and bring it to their mouth. Is it more difficult if they close one eye? Understanding the signals in the brain and getting the correct motion is complex. To learn the signals and refine the movement, a solution had to be developed and tested over and over again to get the optimal result. Students recognize that a model can generate data to test ideas, part of the Engineering Practice, Developing and Using Models.
Teaching Tips for Grades 9-12
Performance Expectation: HS-ETS1-2
ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution
Engineering Practice: Designing Solutions
Defining a problem or need, developing models, designing and optimizing solutions are components of engineering design. While watching this video, students are faced with this problem: how to translate the thoughts of a paralyzed woman into the motion of a robotic arm. This is a complex problem with many components to a successful solution.
After watching the video: Ask your students to identify the problem. Translating human thoughts into the specific motion of a robotic arm. Have your students discuss the multiple components that should be considered as parts of the solution. Determining where the signal originates in the brain, creating a sensor to ‘read’ the signals, building an arm that will be able to move and do tasks based on the signals, and understanding the signals to generate the correct motion in the robotic arm. Continue the discussion, focusing on the components (or subsystems) in the process. Are all of them engineering problems? No, location of the signal in the brain is not. What are the problems each component solves? Are they all the same? No. Students recognize that there are multiple parts to a model, part of the Engineering Practice, Designing Solutions.
Here are some of the main ideas students should take away from this video:
Here's additional information not featured in this video that can be shared with students:
To further student engagement, refer students to the supplemental worksheet and crossword puzzle related to this resource.
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