There are 84 billion neurons in the brain. When working together, they help to create the people we are. Scientists are working on creating a map of how the brain is wired, called a connecteome. EyeWire, an interactive citizen science game, is using a combination of crowd-sourced analysis and artificial intelligence to specifically map the 3D neural circuits that make vision possible.
Set up an account on the site in order to access the tutorial that will walk you through the steps to begin mapping neurons on your own. On your screen, you'll see a 3D cube representing a portion of retina, the part of the eye that receives images and transmits them to the brain, on the left and, on the right, 2D slices of that same image that you can scroll through. Each cube is made up of 256 slices.
Each new cube begins with a section that the game's artificial intelligence (AI) has identified as a piece of a neuron. You will use your keyboard or mouse to click, drag, rotate, and scroll through the 3D representation in order to complete the rest of the pathway by following the outlines of neurons on the 2D slices.
After you have gone through the tutorials and practice cubes, you'll be able to advance to live cubes that other citizen scientists also are mapping. Eventually, the AI will compile and assess the various maps that users have created in order to come up with a cohesive map of neurons. (To date, EyeWire users have helped map several hundred neurons.)
EyeWire combines citizen science, artificial intelligence, and gaming in an engaging way that will appeal to many teenagers.
The interactive could be used in an advanced biology class studying neuroscience, with the opening tutorials completed together in class to ascertain that students have a basic understanding of the pathways they are identifying. Advanced computer science classes also may find it a useful exploration of the potential and limits of AI.
Because of the nature of this site, it will be difficult for you to monitor students' work. Therefore, it is recommended that this interactive be used as an optional, supplementary, or independent piece in addition to classroom work that can be more easily assessed.
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