We're a little crazy, about science!

Day 352: My experiment is coming!!

EEG Cap

I just really like how this photo came out. Here’s one of my lab mates gelling the electrodes for a pseudo-experiment. The scary looking syringe has a blunt tipped needle, we don’t break the skin in our lab so no pain, just a bit of gel to wash out of the hair once completed.

Okay I’ve got an experiment update today and I’m really excited to share because it feels real finally. I know I already wrote about some of this, but when I reread my previous post, it felt disjointed so let’s go over how we got here and what’s coming. I’m excited, are you excited? I’m excited!

Like any good story it would help to start at the beginning, which places me in the last (only really) year of my master’s degree. I had started my master’s as an undergrad so it occured to me that I needed to apply for PhD programs when I finished undergrad. I knew what I wanted to learn, I just didn’t know where I wanted to learn it and it was difficult because it was in a completely different field so my PI had no idea where to look. I was on my own.

My company, the one this website is based on, had been around for several years at that point, we made a bunch of prosthetics, did some really cool things, heck I even have a patent and one pending (go me!). The problem was these were all basically passive prosthetics, no real control. They did what you wanted them to do because you triggered the function, like flex the residual limb and force the hand to close. Very simple systems, effective, but simple and I wanted more.

I wanted to learn how to interface the prosthetic to the person, like really interface. The goal is to give the user a more complete experience. EMG wasn’t too hard and my undergrad was focused on control systems, so I had the experience there, but I wanted to do something new. Brain machine interfacing seemed to be a good option, there were some minimally invasive places I looked at and one I would’ve gotten into if the PI hadn’t been shutting his lab down to transition to industry. He was the one who helped me get to where I am now, he won’t read this (ever), but I’m extremely grateful.

So long story short, there was a serious learning curve. I went from being an expert in what I was doing to having no clue what was going on. However, I did what I feel like I do best and looked for the gap. Would you believe I found it? Yep October two years ago I had an idea, it was barely formed when I met my (now) Co-PI for the first time, he was just setting up and he studied spinal cord injury using transcutaneous spinal stimulation. He was… hesitant to believe what I wanted to do was possible. I’m glad to say after almost two years, he seems pretty confident.

March of last year I took a leap. Not a baby step, I giant fucking leap. I didn’t wait to build up the evidence that what I wanted to do was possible, I grabbed the fucking thing and held on for dear life. Then after that giant learning curve I was talking about passed, I had my results. The first time I showed my PI he asked if it was the average from all the trials. It wasn’t, this was done to be real-time applicable, so his next question was, “oh so this is the best trial?” Reader, it was the first trial, I knew I was on to something. For my qualifying exam (December of last year), I presented this work (while dealing with a flu I got thanks to my PI no less).

The crux of the whole thing was that I couldn’t say for certain I had what I think I had. I could only say that what I found was unlikely to be muscle artifact, sensor movement, etc. I had ruled out everything within reason except for the thing I was interested in. To wrap it up nicely, I even showed that it behaved like the animal models. By the end, my main PI was convinced I had something and is looking forward to my PhD dissertation proposal defense (the one where we can say for certain I had something).

Fast forward to now. After a ton of planning and sharing some papers with my Co-PI that has him (more) convinced that this is possible, we’re about to start MY first experiment. It’s going to be a very simple cause and effect experiment so I can definitely say I have something and I’ve come up with a way to help use it to verify my previous findings even though they are two completely different experiments. I’ve built the test rig (sitting in front of me now since everything in my living room is still stacked on it to put weight on the pieces I’m gluing together), I’ve finalized my methodology, and we had planned to do the experiment this week, but one of our participants tested positive for COVID so she couldn’t do it.

I had verbal confirmation from my CO-PI that we were doing this, or as he said, it’s time. Unfortunately I had no one on the schedule for my experiment. So I was stuck waiting and hoping.

Well it FINALLY happened, I’m officially on the schedule and by this time next week I will have collected my first new dataset! I’m super excited and if all goes well this will be the start of something incredible. Now, there is the possibility that I don’t have what I think I do, that would be a problem, but we’ve already come up with some back up things I can do for my PhD.

That’s the good news, the bad news would be that I very much want this to be my work. We’re collecting 6-8 subjects worth of data, so it should be more than enough for me to make the claim I found something, fingers crossed this works! It’s going to be an exciting few months. There is a lot of very old evidence that indirectly points out that this can be done, so I’m not too worried… yet.

If I am going to hit my goal and defend my PhD proposal in December(ish) I’ll need to have this data analysed and if not published, in review. It’s going to be tight since it took me months to analyse a single subjects worth of data, but I didn’t know what I was doing or how to do it, now I have a better understanding of what is going on I can (hopefully) do it much quicker. All this to say that while my first year of the 365 days of academia project is coming to a close, the next year will be one hell of a wild ride!

 

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