Advancing an interest and literacy in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields in high school students through summer and after school programs has been widely popular since the 1990’s, and these programs are effective at improving retention and persistence after graduation. However, there still remains a lack of designing programs to increase interest and literacy of biomedical engineering (BME) related applications that are scalable at other institutions. This is typically due to the challenges of providing costly resources that are available only in specific laboratory settings and require graduate level expertise to operate. To provide a low-cost and scalable approach to introduce BME applications to high school students, the authors developed a BME high school summer program that was piloted in the summer of 2019. Aimed at introducing students to the BME field, the program focused on introducing neuroscience and neuroengineering principles using low-cost and open source materials.
The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) program “BioEngineering Your Brain: Controlling the World with Your Brainwaves” introduced basic neuroscience and bioengineering concepts to 24 high school students through lecture based material, in class assignments and activities, and hands-on laboratory projects. Through the use of low-cost and open source electroencephalography (EEG) devices (OpenBCI, Brooklyn, NY), students utilized a brain-computer interface (BCI) system to learn how to analyze brain data, characterize underlying physiological behaviors, and use algorithms to interface with a computer screen. The BCI system utilized steady state visual evoked potentials (SSVEP) of EEG to control a character in a maze on a computer screen. The cost of the system was < $300, and all materials are reusable for future program offerings. In addition, the signal processing techniques introduced students to Matlab Software (MathWorks, Natick, MA), which they learned how to use via the free Octave Online web user interface. Students were asked to develop a hypothesis, methods protocol, and validation protocol to determine how to optimize the BCI system in the laboratory. To provide instructional guidance, supplemental lectures and in class activities on brain physiology, programming and signal processing principles, brain recording modalities, as well as BCI development and applications were provided throughout the program. To determine whether the program increased interest and confidence in pursuing BME as an undergraduate degree, an exit survey was provided to all students who attended the program.
The exit survey results showed that the program improved students’ perceptions of BME and their interest in entering BME as an undergraduate major. In particular, 83.33% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that the experience increased their interest in studying BME, and 83.33% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that it increased their interest in the field of neuroscience. Furthermore, 87.5% of the students reported that the program increased their interest in pursuing scientific research as a career, and 91.67% of the students reported that it increased their interest in obtaining a graduate degree.
With advancements in hardware and open source software, the authors were able to develop a novel low-cost approach for introducing neuroscience, BME, and BCIs to high school students. Future work will expand the program to other BCI applications and developing online lecture modules that complement the laboratory portion of the program. In addition, the authors plan to introduce the program to other summer programs to assess its scalability and efficacy at improving interest and literacy of BME and neuroengineering principles to high school students. The authors will also introduce the program into our current undergraduate curriculum as part of a project that will be conducted alongside our current EEG experimental laboratory during the next year, as it will reinforce principles learned during the existing course content and provide a BME application of the laboratory.
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