CrawFly: A playground for learning and innovation

By: Ashley Frank


"When you get a bunch of scientists together, minds really start to geek out. They start to think, ‘Well, what if we did this, what if we did that, could we change this?’ So even though these are preparations that folks have been doing for 40 years, they are innovative!...Those are really neat experiences that you could have missed.”


The opportunity to play with science amongst a group of innovative minds - this was one of Cord Brundage’s favorite aspects of the 2022 CrawFly Summer Workshop hosted at Cornell University this past June. Facilitated by ADInstruments and the Department of Biology at Cornell University, CrawFly is a hands-on workshop for higher education life science instructors seeking to expand their curriculum reach in the neurosciences. This training is based on topics explored in the “Crawdad Project,” a three-year program funded by the National Science Foundation to promote the use of invertebrates in undergraduate physiology and neuroscience lab courses. The workshop aims to provide teachers hands-on experience with invertebrate preparations that can easily be incorporated into laboratory courses back home.

Cord Brundage, currently an Assistant Professor in Animal and Veterinary Science at California State Polytechnic University and soon to be starting in the Biology Department at the University of Wisconsin, was one of several who attended the most recent CrawFly workshops. He has earned a B.S. in Zoology from Colorado State University, an M.S. in Neurophysiology from the University of Alaska, a Ph.D. in Neurophysiology from the University of Alaska, and a D.V.M. from Colorado State University. In his new position at the University of Wisconsin, Cord will be teaching a neurophysiology course, and decided that CrawFly would be a great opportunity to prepare by reacquainting himself with the world of neurophysiology.

We caught up with Cord following his time at the workshop to learn about his overall experience and what he was able to take away from CrawFly.


What drew you to attend the CrawFly workshop?

Neuroscience is a very diverse field; people approach it from psychology and social sciences or from genetics or other areas. Everyone has this different background, right? So then you come into academia and you’re being asked to teach things like a neuroscience course. People may have some areas that they are stronger in or have more exposure in - and so the challenge is always, how do you fill in those gaps? How do you build up that knowledge base and teach some of those applied skills? 

The neat thing about CrawFly is that you’ve got folks who have been doing these preparations for 40+ years; they are experts at being able to do this. Hands down, in and out, they know how to do this. So if you are going to learn from anybody, nobody knows it better than them! These are the experts in this area.


What was your favorite part of the CrawFly experience?

There were two things that were really special for me. One was the DIY project. Looking at my lab and trying to figure out how to maximize every dollar that I have available to me. Learning how to be able to provide equipment not only for myself but also for teaching, things that I can do if I’m going to implement this for my students. Finances are always a challenge - even a micromanipulator, that’s $1500 right there. To do that for $30, that pays for CrawFly itself! And they are continually adding new things that I can DIY.

The other thing that was really unique: when you get a bunch of scientists together, minds really start to geek out. They start to think, “Well, what if we did this, what if we did that, could we change this?” So even though these are preparations that folks have been doing for 40 years, they are innovative!...Those are really neat experiences that you could have missed. You don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to really play like that. That was my favorite part. Scientists playing with the science and doing things that you otherwise maybe never would have thought of.


Is there anything you learned that you would like to implement in your courses?

I'd love to implement everything. The optogenetics stuff was something that I was maybe a little bit intimidated by. Just the idea of it, because I hadn’t heard of it, didn’t know much about it. They made it very accessible, and with the availability of the flies it’s something that really anybody can do!

Then there were different levels, some of the recordings were a bit easier but then we got to other sections and some were more challenging. We talked about how maybe some of the activities would be ones that the instructor would do as demonstration, and others would be done in advanced-level courses. I’m excited about starting at square one and incorporating as much as I can.


What benefit(s) do you see these exercises having for your students once you implement them?

The challenge with neuroscience and physiology is just how conceptual and abstract it can be. Trying to understand how things work can be a challenge when it’s just on paper. I think it will provide the opportunity for students to really just see things in action, which will be useful for students to learn and understand. There’s also so much problem solving that's involved in practical neuroscience, and students don’t get that opportunity in these overly-structured forms. So having actual experimental-type preparations really gives them a chance to tease out what might be going on and to problem solve for themselves.


Is there anybody in particular to whom you would recommend a CrawFly workshop? 

I do see how this would be very valuable for folks at early career stages, again because folks come into neuroscience from various backgrounds. But trying to figure out how you are going to apply some of your neuroscience knowledge in a practical way, this will give you some of the hands-on labs that you can do. If you don’t have that kind of exposure, it’s really nice as an early career person to get some of those ideas to apply.

I think also if you are someone looking to add some extra levels to your courses or you are creating a neuroscience program or wanting to look at some advanced classes, some of the preparations really can be as complex as you need them to be. You can even teach graduate-level courses with these skills. Or if you are just wanting to expand your knowledge of neuroscience in different ways. I found it was super valuable and we had folks who were senior-level scientists and professors there, and they were having just as much fun and learning just as much as anyone.


We would like to thank Cord for taking the time to chat with us about his experience! We look forward to the continued development of the workshop. Those interested in attending a future CrawFly event can look out for details regarding our January 2023 Winter CrawFly.