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Bionic arm moved by brain waves

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Group discussion
Topic: Nervous system

Claudia Mitchell has become the first woman in the world to be fitted with a ‘bionic’ arm that can be controlled by her thoughts alone. She lost her original arm in a motorbike accident. In the new one, metal replaces bone, motors replace muscles and wires replace nerves. The only parts that couldn’t be replaced were the connections to her brain. But what makes Claudia’s new arm special? It’s the clever way that signals from her brain are forwarded to the bionic replacement. As they consider how it’s done, students learn how muscles are controlled and consider the benefits, drawbacks and risks of the technology that makes bionic body parts feasible.

14-16 How Science Works:
4a. About the use of contemporary scientific and technological developments and their benefits, drawbacks and risks.

Published: 29th September 2006
Reviews & Comments: 7

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Learning objectives

Students will:
• understand the roles of sensory and motor neurones
• consider the benefits, drawbacks and risks of developing artificial body parts.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

How science works
4a. About the use of contemporary scientific and technological developments and their benefits, drawbacks and risks
11.1 How do human bodies respond to changes inside them and to their environment?
• The nervous system enables humans to react to their surroundings and coordinate their behaviour.
• Information from receptors passes along cells (neurones) in nerves to the brain. The brain coordinates the response.
• The role of sensory neurones and motor neurones.
Topic 3 Electrical and Chemical Signals
• Describe the structure of the central nervous system and explain how it carries an electrical impulse from a sense organ to muscles.
Item B1d: Keeping In Touch
• Name and locate the main parts of the nervous system: the central nervous system (CNS) (brain and spinal cord); the peripheral nervous system.
• State that the nerve impulse is mainly electrical and is carried by nerve cells called neurones
Twenty First Century
B6.1 How do organisms respond to changes in their environment?
• Recall that in the mammalian nervous system the CNS (brain and spinal cord) is connected to the body via the peripheral nervous system (sensory and motor neurons).

Running the activity

Page 1 sets the scene by comparing the bionic enhancements used on the hero of a Sci-Fi TV programme with the latest technology currently available. Page 2 explains the science involved in making a bionic arm work and can be linked with work on the nervous system and reflex reactions.

Page 3 gives examples of bionics in current use and presents the extreme case represented by the fictional ‘Robocop’. Students are asked to discuss which body parts they would like to see improved. They could work in groups and feed back to the rest of the class. Once a selection of ideas has been agreed, they could consider the potential benefits, drawbacks and risks that might be associated with the new technology. Page 4 provides a table for recording the class’s ideas.

Teacher’s notes:
Students will come up with their own ideas, but possibilities include the following ‘improvements’:

Brain – memory storage implants
Skin -.built in sunscreen
Skeleton - stronger bones
Blood – blood that can carry extra oxygen

News links

The original news story with links to a detailed but accessible feature on how the arm works and a video of it in action.
How Stuff Works
Images of the bionic parts currently available.
Radical body design
A stimulating article that summarises past milestones in enhancing body parts and predicts what might be available in the future.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

cool arm

Jan 5th, 2009

5 Star

Excellent I cant wait to use this with my Year 10 class, it will be a nice change for them.

Reviewer: susan smith

Bionic arm moved by brain waves review

Nov 25th, 2008

4 Star

Went well, my lower ability set enjoyed this. They appreciated it from the usual

Reviewer: mark harder

bionic arms

Apr 28th, 2008

5 Star

Yet another great activity from upd8, my top set year 10 class came up with some really creative ideas and were suitably challenged by the ethical debate that followed.

I just hope you are writing new activities for the growing number of teachers who are using this site.

Thanks upd8

Reviewer: James Browne

Bionic arm

Jul 6th, 2007

4 Star

This activity gripped a top set year 11, especially as it was used as revision. It promoted extremely topical discussions as to the path of new technologies and what existed that 'we' as 'civilians' are not privy too. The future (the group decided) of robocop is fast approaching.

Reviewer: f m

Top set year 9

Apr 18th, 2007

5 Star

Fantastic link to the nervous system and triggered a genuine interest in topical science. Provided an opportunity for students to discuss and contribute and encouraged a high level of independent thought.

Reviewer: Debbie Marie Smith

Binge Drinking KS3

Feb 5th, 2007

4 Star

This year 9 activity with role play really worked well and evoked natural questions and disgreements on a very topical subject

Joanna Johnson
Rydal Penrhos

Reviewer: joanna johnson

Bionic Arm

Oct 25th, 2006

3 Star

Good for new GCSE - prompted lots of discussion

Reviewer: Anne Maingay