“Is free will really free?”

For this year’s ESSARP science fair, a group of year eleven students got the opportunity to participate and were asked to design a stand around a project of choice to present in front of the judges and the whole fair.   
 
As soon as we started researching on something interesting to do, a teacher from the science department proposed a neuroscience experiment that allowed us to engage with different areas of STEM, such as biology, physics and technology. As we were all intrigued by it, we eagerly accepted and got right into work. 
 
We knew we wanted to play with the concept of a person being unable to have control over its own arm for a few seconds, so we named the stand “Is free will really free?”, a bold statement that quickly gained us attention from other students and adults around. The experiment itself consisted in sticking electrodes to a controller’s arm in order to catch electrical impulses coming from its muscle contractions, take them to the motherboard where they were digitized and redirected to the volunteer’s arm as electricity to trigger a response the own person could not control, as we were blocking the signals coming from the brain with external factors. In other words, we used electrical impulses of a person’s arm to be in control of someone else’s. 
 
To fully understand and be able to explain what was going on, we had to previously do research looking into both the central and peripheral nervous system: the brain, spinal cord and the different types of neurons. Some of us discovered a whole new world and others got to investigate the depths of it even more. 
 
Here in the behind the scenes: middle of research, having to set up the experiment, designing the stand and all the planning as a whole, is where we were challenged to truly work as a team, specially as we were short on time because the winter break in between. It was essential to select which tasks were for everyone to do, deciding how the rest of them needed to be divided, and the biggest challenge for me: trusting that everyone was going to do their part in order for the project to be a success, which it was!
 
I strongly encourage any student interested in science or just wants to try it out, to participate in the fair. It allows you to work with (or observe from other stands) information learnt in class applied in real life, while also heavily implementing creativity as well as it being one more instance to carry out a project together with a team, learning a lot from it. 
 
Special thanks to Fanny Horwitz, who accompanied us all throughout the process and made the experience extra enjoyable. 
 
Sofia Vaca Narvaja

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