Virtual reality (VR) has revolutionized various fields, including gaming, education, and training. VR for mice has become an important method in neuroscience as it allows researchers to keep a mouse’s head fixed in place for neural recordings while the mouse performs tasks involving locomotion, such as running in a maze. A team of researchers at the Harvey Lab, based at Harvard University, has developed an innovative spherical treadmill base as a crucial component of a virtual reality system for mice.
The Harvey Lab at Harvard University has embraced the spirit of open science by making the hardware plans for the spherical treadmill base openly available under the MIT license. Researchers and enthusiasts can access the design files and documentation on the lab’s GitHub repository. This open-source approach promotes collaboration, transparency, and innovation within the scientific community, allowing for the refinement and customization of the apparatus by researchers worldwide.
Ethan Blackwood, a graduate student from the Proekt Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, embraced the open-source culture and utilized the design provided by the Harvey Lab for his experimental apparatus. Blackwood expressed apprehension initially as he ventured into building a new apparatus for a technique his lab had limited experience with. Blackwood states, “As a graduate student, building a new experimental apparatus for a technique my lab was not experienced in was daunting. Fortunately, neuroscience has a growing open-source culture, and thus I was able to use hardware and software designs that had been generously made public by the Harvey Lab. In doing so, the Biotech Commons’ 3D printing service and the Research Instrumentation Shop were key resources that allowed me to precisely replicate their design and customize it for my needs.” Leveraging the public designs from the Harvey Lab, Ethan successfully replicated their innovative spherical treadmill base while customizing it to meet the specific needs of his research.
By allowing mice to navigate a virtual maze while their head remains fixed, this apparatus facilitates cutting-edge research into the neural basis of behavior. The open-source availability of the plans further promotes collaboration and encourages the scientific community to push the boundaries of knowledge in this exciting field. With continued development and exploration, the possibilities of using VR in understanding the complexities of the brain are truly promising.