Smarter Every Day

Smarter Every Day

Students study neuroplasticity.

Ten years ago, Destin Sandlin, a mechanical engineer, rocket scientist, and producer of the Smarter Every Day YouTube channel, visited the Hilltop as the 2014 Schwartz Visiting Fellow. With him, he brought his bicycle. Initially, some thought it odd that Sandlin, who traveled from Alabama to Pomfret, brought his own bicycle. But his was not an ordinary bike; his bike had been alternated. The wheel would turn left when Sandlin turned the handlebars to the right. Nicknamed the “backwards brain bicycle,” the bike was a part of Sandlin’s exploration of neuroplasticity.

Be sure to watch to 2:10 to see a flashback to Sandlin's trip to Pomfret.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. It occurs when the brain is rewired as a result of learning and lived experiences. The brain can also respond and adapt to damage caused by an accident or drugs and alcohol. 

In their study of neuroplasticity, Amy VanHoesen’s biology class watched Sandlin’s episode about his backwards brain bicycle. They put their brains to the test by conducting an experiment of their own using the backyard game cornhole and prism goggles. In their test, one person, designated as the tosser, was recorded throwing a beanbag at the cornhole board target. The recorder marked how many attempts the tosser made to hit the target five times in a row. When the tosser successfully sank the bean bag five consecutive times, they immediately put on the prism goggles and attempted to repeat their success.

Alfredo Peniche Gasque '24 attempts to play cornhole during the neuroplasticity experiment. 

The prism goggles significantly altered the tosser's vision, switching their vision left or right. While wearing the goggles, they had difficulty hitting their target with the beanbag. With each attempt, their brain was rewired. Their neurons learned and adapted to the new vision and muscle memory relationship. After the tosser scored five consecutive points, they took a break from the cornhole game but continued to wear the goggles.

Sienna Desutter ’25 tosses the bean bags after wearing the goggles during a break in the experiment. 

When the break was over, they returned to the game and had greater success hitting the target because their brain learned how to respond to the altered vision during the pause in the game. 

To conclude the experiment, the tosser took off their goggles and made one final attempt to make five consecutive winning tosses. This part of the experiment required the brain to unlearn the need to correct for the altered vision. 

"This experiment really helped me understand how our brains can grow and adapt to what we might need them to do," says Sienna Desutter ’25.


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