The Batak Machine
Last year SCI-FUN purchased a Batak machine (shown opposite, and used first in the 2005 Science Festival), which allows users to test their reaction times in a variety of ways, by hitting a sequence of lighted buttons in the least time. For the Science Festival, we ran the machine as a 30-second timed challenge, and measured the scores of the many hundreds of people who took part.
Reaction time is the period between the introduction of a stimulus (in the case of the BATAK the light switching on) and the first observable response (hitting the target to switch the light off again).
The quickest human reactions don’t even involve the brain. When you touch something hot, the message travels to the spinal cord, which transmits the command to pull your hand away, all in under 80 milliseconds (0.08 seconds).
The BATAK machine tests the slower reactions in which the brain is involved; the fastest possible reaction times in this case are around 0.15 seconds.
Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea Football Clubs all use BATAK reaction timing equipment to help in their training and improve their reaction times, as do the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association and many Formula One drivers.
It’s a much more complex task for visual signals to be processed by the brain than it is for sound. We therefore respond much more quickly to sound (8-10 ms to reach the brain, and 140-160 ms to react) than to visual stimuli (20-40 ms and 180-200 ms, respectively).
What surprised us in the museum challenge was the number of people who came back, day after day, to try to improve their scores. Keenest of all were the two top scoring cousins Glen and Keiran, shown here, who, with single-minded determination (and the patience of their granny in coming back with them each time), managed to achieve quite amazing scores, and also led to our discovering a brand new medical syndrome: batakophilia....