We're a little crazy, about science!

Day 156: Experiment results

cervical spine

Well to say it’s been a busy week is probably an understatement and it doesn’t seem like it will be slowing down anytime soon. As it stands today was the end of our data collection. We managed to get ~15 subjects to go through our protocol and while I cannot share anything (yet) I can talk about the stuff I’ve learned and what is coming.

Today I had to leave before the last experiment started, I had class. However, I managed (even with surgery!) to only miss 2 of the data collection periods. There are two different labs that I am a part of, the academic and the clinical. With two totally different ways to do things. A good example, my PI (the main one) wanted me to collect data for my dissertation proposal over the summer and by the end of the year at the latest. My Co-PI, who is very much on the clinical side suggested that we collect the same data, by the end of the month!

So there is a push and pull relationship between the two labs, but that isn’t the only big difference. The way data is handled is different as well. The clinical lab is clearly better funded, so we don’t have to create trigger boxes (boxes that send a synchronization pulse between equipment). We also use different software, which means different capabilities. The clinical lab has software that does some pretty handy things, it segments the data for you and does some preprocessing (filtering, “cleaning”, etc.).

In the academic setting, we use matlab… a lot. On the other hand, on the clinical side they use excel of all things (which frankly blew my mind!). Which brings me to my job, I’m helping fuse the two approaches together. Matlab is great because of the customization you have. There is a LOT of control afforded to you when you use it. This means better visualizations (mostly) and once you write the code, you have something that will produce the exact same graphic repeatedly. The only thing you would need to swap is the dataset you are inputting.

Over the past week, I got to play around (okay learn) to use the other big equipment that we use in the clinical lab, meaning nerve stimulators. I got to help place electrodes and sensors and I got to operate the stimulators. Basically I got to do the data collection (with supervision of course) for the bulk of the experiment.

As previously mentioned, I also get to assist on the graphics for the project. While I won’t get my first authorship with this paper, I will get to be a coauthor for my work. This is nice because it is in the field I am interested in and I got to learn about a different way of doing things. It’s very much like a controls systems approach, we stimulate a site then record the responses in healthy subject to find the differences between healthy populations and spinal cord injury populations.

For those of you who haven’t taken a controls class, we perturb the system and record the output to characterize how it behaves, then we design a controller to augment the output of the system. Planes, cars, basically any type of electronic device will have control systems like that. The easiest example is cruise control, but we can go into details about how control systems work some other time.

Okay, so I mentioned I wanted to do a get to know your spinal cord series. I still plan to do that and tomorrow we will start! I’m very excited to introduce people to the spinal cord and why I love it. We’re going to start at the beginning with this one, well the beginning of the cord, that would be the medullary pyramids. It’s going to be fun (if only for me) so stick around!


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