The first equipment test!
It’s been literally months in the making, but we finally have the equipment I need to start my dissertation and even though it’s the weekend, I’m making a special trip to campus (it’s been like a month since I’ve been there) to test out the equipment and get things ready for my first set of dissertation experiments! I’m hoping things go smoothly so that I can get the data needed, but as with all things, some assembly is required.
So you want to do an experiment, great! If you’re in neuroengineering like I am, a broad field to be sure, there are a lot of things you need to do. Specifically in my case, we have several different data streams coming from several different pieces of equipment. Today I’ll be testing the brand new, super expensive (not that expensive), equipment I bought because unlike most of the things I do, this experiment actually has some funding attached! Woo!!
Since the first and only experiment I’ve done was so problematic (see this post) I’ve been waiting for the new equipment to replace the stuff we were borrowing from a different lab. This equipment isn’t exclusively for my use, but I have priority so it’s basically my equipment for as long as I need it. That’s the good news because I have a very tight schedule and with work commitments, I have very few days I can come into the lab to collect data (weekends and some Fridays). With equipment specifically dedicated to me, others will work around my schedule instead of trying to find days in the schedule the other labs weren’t using the equipment we were being loaned.
The nice thing is that all the equipment will be stored in the main school lab. Prior, we had to transport our equipment across campus (about a 10 minute walk) to do my experiment. It was good exercise, but it definitely sucked walking in the heat carrying about 20 pounds of equipment. It also means I can set the room up the way I need it and just head in. Basically this was the best case scenario and I’m hoping I can hit the turbo button and get the data as quickly as possible since I need to get something done between now and the DARPA conference as well as my approaching (hopeful) deadline for graduation.
While I’m excited to get started, it’s going to be a lot of work and very physically demanding. Experiments are always physically demanding, but these in particular are pretty hard. So today I’ll be testing the equipment to make sure it all plays nicely together. That shouldn’t be a problem since the equipment I purchased was the same equipment we use in the hospital lab, but there’s always a catch somewhere or a problem that you never saw coming. So instead of trying to troubleshoot the day of (like I was forced to do last time) I will be troubleshooting today and with luck next Friday I’ll have one or two new, ideally nicely organized, datasets to work with!
Since we’re testing the equipment I’m not forced to rush and find a quick workaround for the problem(s) we may run into. Instead I can take my time and make sure everything is exactly the way I want it so I can just go in and do the experiment without any trouble (haha… right no trouble). Okay less trouble. But that’s part of the whole process I guess, learning how to optimize what you’re doing and to be fair last experiment was the first experiment and the first is always the hardest.
The last time we had software crash, stop working, and basically nothing was going the way I wanted it to. I had my fancy laptop that I bought a few years ago (thanks to my fellowship) so I could collect the data and things seemed to be rocky, but working. Until I tried to use the software I would normally use to collect the data and nothing showed up. That was a huge issue because the software I wanted to use was something I was very familiar with (the same software we use in hospital-PI’s lab). I know how to work with it, how to make sure it all plays nicely, and in general I know the quarks.
Instead I was forced to use the software that came with the equipment. Software mind you I had never used, was told was not that great, and I couldn’t use my laptop so we had to rely on an old (very old) school laptop that looked like it was going to crash under the weight of turning it on. Basically it’s no surprise I ended up with (recounted yesterday because I was curious) 25 separate files for the one experiment. For those unaware that number should be one.
While this will be extra work for me and an extra step, plus I really want to enjoy my weekend… It needs to happen. There’s no way around going in today to get this sorted out because if I wait then I won’t be collecting data next Friday, I’ll be stuck doing the same thing that happened last time, which means troubleshooting while my participant is waiting instead of getting the data right away like I want. That delay also means not getting the full experiment done even if I wanted to because a person can only wait so many hours before they are just as exhausted as you are.
The short version of the story is that the actual experiment with the person lasts anywhere from two to three hours not including setup and teardown. Setup and teardown take another hour to two hours and my experiment is closer to two hours of teardown. Then there’s the prep that needs to happen and that can take anywhere from four to six hours. That’s four to six hours EVERY. SINGLE. EXPERIMENT. Meaning we’re looking at roughly 110 hours for the full ten participants and the participants only see three hours each or about 30 hours total. Oh and that’s just 110 hours needed for phase one. So I’m hoping to avoid phase two or at least truncate it because of all the delays. Not so fun fact! We would be looking at almost double that amount of time for phase two.
And that my dear readers is why I’m going in on a Saturday to make sure everything will run smooth(er). Happy experimenting to all those who celebrate.