Virtual Neurophysiology Workbench

The DIY Brain Lab! Developed to improve the accessibility of neuroscience education.

For these experiments, you'll need  the following items (for links to order many of these items, visit our "Useful Links and Other Resources" page):

To build your brain:*

  • One package of agar or gelatin
  • Water
  • A stove or electric kettle
  • A 1-2 quart container
  • Refrigerator

To simulate the neural signals and apply them to the brain:**

  • A computer with working headphone jack*
  • NEURON software
  • Matlab
  • One pair of earbud headphones with the earbuds cut off*

To record the signals from the surface of the brain:*

  • Backyard Brains Heart and Brains recording system
  • Backyard Brains Spike Recorder software or smart phone application
  • A computer or smartphone (this can be the same computer as is used for the simulations)

*If you are unable to purchase the Backyard Brains Heart and Brains recording system, you can still complete all of the simulations and play the audio files of your neural signals through any speaker or headphone set up you may have.  If you are doing this, you do not need to build a brain or cut any headphones.

**Even if you do buy the recording system, it may be fun to listen to the various neural signals you create!  Many neurosurgeons will record from the brain and listen to the neural signals to decipher where they are within the brain.  So try it out with a friend!  Make it a game!  See if you can tell the difference between the neurons you create and download only by what they sound like! Why do they sound different?  What changes did you make in the cell to change the signaling pattern? Why did that change the cell's behavior?  Post your findings, ideas, and questions here and discuss it with other virtual neurophysiologists!


This experiment will introduce you to the Virtual Neurophysiology Workbench set-up. We will walk you through creating your own computational model of a neural cell. Then, you will learn to use that model to simulate a real neuron in a physical brain model. Finally, you will learn how to record the electrical signals from your cell model from the surface of your brain. Estimated time: 3-4 hours.

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Once you are familiar with simulating and recording neurons from your agar brain model, this experiment will show you how to download, manipulate, and record scientifically validated neuron models. With this experiment the possibilities are endless. Estimated time: 1-3 hours.

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For answers to questions regarding experiments and other information presented as part of the Virtual Neurophysiology Workbench, we encourage you to go to the Q&A forums and take part in discussions with your peers.  There are separate forums for general questions and for troubleshooting various issues.

For all other inquiries please email Christopher Butson, PhD at or Shana Black at 

Thank you for your interest!