We're a little crazy, about science!

Posts tagged “neurology

People are squishy and other science explanations

A recent blog comment reminded me of something I said the other day to surgeon-PI. Keep in mind that surgeon-PI and I have only known each other since he started at the hospital, which isn’t long. While we were doing an experiment in the OR, so under his watch, we discussed some of the challenges with the experiments we were doing and when we tried to change things on the fly he said it was bad science, to which I replied people are squishy. I said what I said damn it!

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Back in the OR

Oh man, I haven’t been in the OR since last year! Okay we’re only a few days into the new year, but it does feel like it’s been a bit with the holidays. That’s going to change though because tomorrow is our first OR experiment of the year. And with the new year, we have some new changes to the experiment that we’ll be trying since we’ve had over a half dozen attempts to do this right with somewhat mixed success.

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Another new project!

When I think of science, for some reason exploration comes to mind. Hence the picture for today.

In the spirit of making things as hard as I possibly can for myself I’ve gotten a new project to work on from hospital-PI. This was a known thing, but it does (mildly) clash with the idea I recently had. Since I cannot share the idea I had, we can instead talk about this project a bit and why the two will be at odds. I also have a fun update on the big idea project I came up with so I’m shoehorning it in with this post since it’s semi-related.

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Yet another rush…

It’s a familiar story by now. Tomorrow is not one, but two experiments in the OR. In fact, I’m going to be so busy tomorrow that I’m probably going to write tomorrow’s post today. The good (or at least interesting) news there is that I have a good topic lined up for tomorrow since it just happened to fall in my lap. But for today, well let’s just say there’s not a whole lot of time.

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Double OR experiments!

It’s official, I just got not one, but two new participants for our study. This will be happening next week and the scary part is they are both on the same day, so it will be more than a full day in the OR, like 12 hours or so for the whole day. Not all of that time will be spent in the OR, thankfully. Every attempt we’ve had thus far in the OR has gotten better and better, so if the pattern holds, we should have some very good data after this next round of participants and I will have more data than I know what to do with.

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The fifth OR experiment

Well we did it. I finally have the first (mostly) complete dataset from a patient. Overall I think it went well and we got good data. Mistakes were made! But thankfully none of them derailed the project and overall I am happy with the outcome. Let’s get into what went wrong and what went right, because having some post surgical notes will help me next time we do our thing.

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Prepping for the experiment

Today’s the day, experiment number five. With lot of luck this will be the first full experiment we do for this protocol. It will hopefully mark a turning point for us since after four attempts we’ve yet to get a full dataset. However, I’m hopeful, but I’m also going in alone today.

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A big idea…

You ever have an idea that you just KNEW would change the way you were doing things. Like the first person to invent a surgical robot, it was just a good idea and it completely changed the way things were done. I don’t think that this idea is going to change things that dramatically, but much like my super secret technique, I think my recent revelation is going to mean some great things for me. Lighting struck the other day and it has hospital-PI incredibly excited.

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Fun with collaborators!

So much has been going on that I can’t even keep up with it. I was debating about what news to share, but I think we’ll talk about something I’ve had in the works for awhile now. Actually I just checked my email exchanges, this has been in the works for over a year and today we finally crossed the threshold from hypothetical to real world data collection!

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Update from the OR

I don’t share actual surgery photos online (even if I could, I don’t know that I would), but there are plenty stock photos, like this one!

No, I’m not updating this while I’m in the OR, but we had OR attempt number five as a maybe today and I have good news. We managed to get a yes at the last minute and got some interesting data. It’s all very exciting, so now I need to dig around and see what we found. For sake of remembering, let’s run through how today went!

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Another OR experiment… maybe

I got a random email yesterday from hospital-PI that I didn’t understand and I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on, but it looks like experiment number five may be happening as early as Monday! It will be an early morning and a long day, but it will be worth it, assuming it happens. Like everything in my life at the moment, we’re not 100% sure that we will be able to attend.

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Writing rush

Well today I will be spending the bulk of my time editing a journal paper that needs some work. Okay a lot of work, it’s not great, but I feel like it’s a case of switching fields. Something I know all too well when I jumped from mechanical engineering to neuroengineering. I try to be polite when editing because it’s stressful enough as it is. However, it’s important to remember that it’s the paper being critiqued, not you.

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The fourth OR experiment

It’s official! We have experiment number four coming in two days. I’m excited about another attempt to collect data and to answer about a dozen interesting questions since we just keep tacking on stuff to look at when we go in. I’m not even joking, the experiment list keeps growing because the opportunity is unique and they don’t add significant amounts of time to the main experiment we’re doing.

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Off to the OR!

Tomorrow is the big day, our second experiment and while I’m a little nervous, I’m also excited to see what we can do. Last time around we had some issues… okay a lot of issues, but that’s because it was the first time we’ve ever tried something like this. This time around we worked with the team that will be in the OR with us so we know what they are doing and this time they know what we are doing. Basically we’re aiming for a whole lot less drama and a whole lot more useable data, meaning any usable data!

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DIY Research

When I say arts and crafts projects, I really do mean there is art involved.

Working in a big fancy hospital research lab means I get access to all sorts of very expensive, very cool equipment that I wouldn’t be able to use normally. Things that I take great pains not to break because, well… it’s not cheap. If we need something, we order it and the process is surprisingly fast considering the amount of paperwork that goes into placing an order. However, on occasion there are no ready pieces of equipment that I can just use for an experiment or we don’t know that the big expensive piece of equipment that we’re looking at is the thing we actually need. So what other options do we have? Spoiler, it’s arts and crafts time.

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Experiments from the OR

The last place you would expect to see me doing non-invasive research would be the operating room. Surgery, even the minor stuff, can be very invasive, but that doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate and combine our techniques. Of course this is the first time anyone in the hospital has tried to collaborate like this (that we know of anyway) so there’s bound to be some growing pains. Luckily we’re about to go into our second real attempt at this and I think we’ve worked out all the problems.

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A weekend of edits

No matter how much you stagger something, it somehow all manages to come back to you at the same time. It’s an interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed, where suddenly everyone wants something from me all at the same time. In this case, I was hit with not one, but three paper edits that need to happen. All of the requests happened within a day of each other, so now my weekend will be spent doing my least favorite activity, editing papers.

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One presentation done!

Today was the final presentation on some research I did. The road was long and I wish I could blame it all on COVID, but there was a lot for me to learn between when we started and now. I’m happy with the outcome and I think my school-PI is happy as well. There’s still one minor milestone left and that’s the publication, but the paper is written and I’m waiting for edits from my co-authors, so the hard part is done at least.

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Winter conference season

It’s that time of the year again! Every six months or so we have an influx of conferences and what not that happens pretty routinely in winter then again in the spring. Thanks to COVID still being a thing — get vaccinated people — we’re either going fully virtual, or since one of our events this year is smaller, we’re taking precautions to keep people socially distanced and masked (since it’s a hospital organized event, we’re all already vaccinated). Tomorrow is the first event of the season and I’m giving a short (five minute) presentation on the work I did for this particular group.

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The how to of presentation design

With my three minute talk coming up (more here) I need to design my two slides and get my poster set. Since I don’t like doing more work than needed, instead of trying to figure out the order of things and blog about something else, I wanted to go over how I would be presenting my science, both for the talk and my poster. Ideally this would help others, but mostly it’s for me since I could use the format in the future. I would copy from my previous talks, but I like to mix it up a little and this isn’t quite as formal as some of the other talks I’ve had to give.

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The surgical scramble!

Today was an… interesting day. Saturday I mentioned that today I would be in the OR again, it feels like I’ve been living there for a bit now and I have to say I’m enjoying it, but things were a little more hectic than I had originally anticipated. I had arranged for everything to be ready well before the surgery took place, but as it turns out that wasn’t what happened and I was left to scramble in order to get everything working.

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Papers, experiments, and the week ahead

It’s going to be a busy week and the weekend has only just started. While I plan on taking some time to myself this weekend, I am going to be prepping for the week ahead today since tomorrow is halloween. There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening this week, so today I want to round up all the odds and ends to give you an idea of what the week will look like, but also to help me organize my thoughts as I get ready.

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An interesting experiment, maybe

I was debating about sharing this since I’m not sure if it will happen or not. More importantly, like all the experiments and stuff I do around here (or at least it feels that way) I can’t talk about it in detail. Instead I can talk about why I’m excited about it in particular and why it may not even happen. Which, considering I’m still trying to recover from surgery, may not be a bad thing!

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The award announcement

Well it’s official, my project got funded. It’s a little hollow since we knew ahead of time that it was going to be awarded, but now that it’s official we can make a big deal about it. By we I mean my school-PI and our collaborator, who I guess is technically my latest Co-PI, so now I have three PI’s and you thought my life was complicated enough already, didn’t you?

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Yet more papers!!

Well if it isn’t the week of every single thing that needs to be written needs to be done today, I don’t know what week it is. For those keeping score, I’ve successfully had one paper accepted for publication, had a random update and submitted a second paper for publication, and now I’m working on two other papers while I’m waiting to hear back about a third. What a week.

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The transition to clinical research

Today should be interesting… it’s my onboarding appointment, which is one of the last steps I need to complete to be hired at the hospital. There’s a lot going on in life at the moment, some of which is personal so I won’t be sharing that here, but let’s just say everything has been incredibly stressful. Oh and since I need to get the appointment done this week if I want to start on time, this was the last day I can get it done.

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PhD proposal prep

Well I’ve finally made it to the next milestone in my PhD. I’m now at the point where I can do my proposal defense. It shouldn’t be too bad, but there’s a lot involved between now and then that needs to happen including coming to some sort of an agreement between my two PI’s about what exactly the project will consist of. Since I had no idea what getting a PhD entailed when I started, I’m assuming at least some of you have no idea what’s going on so let’s go over how we got here and what I’m getting ready to do.

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The week ahead

Well the next two weeks are shaping up to be interesting. I’ve got a lot of the onboarding stuff to get out of the way for my new job (yay!) and I’m still juggling two different papers basically full-time. Considering those two things are really the only stuff on my plate at the moment things feel pretty good, sort of anyway. There’s still a lot of mental health stuff going on and I’m just feeling overwhelmed with the choices I’ve made so far. So what’s the game plan for the week look like? Let’s talk about it.

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The plastic spinal cord

Amazing spinal cord slice artwork by Greg Dunn

You can’t teach an old spinal cord new tricks, or something like that. Up until recently (like the last ten or fifteen years), we had thought that the spinal cord was a fixed thing. It was the information highway of the body and its primary role was to receive, sort, and send information from the brain to the body and vice versa. That’s (thankfully) not the case. The truth, or at least something closer to the truth, is that the spinal cord is a lot like the brain. It can learn, think, and even act independently of the brain.

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The art in science

One of the easiest ways to turn even the most advanced scientific paper into something accessible is through carefully crafted figure design. Figures are a way to tell a story, but to also capture the readers imagination. The difference between a scientific figure and a drawing from a story is really just the difference in the information you are conveying. However, as is the case with most things in the world, a “good” figure is in the eye of the beholder.

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Non-invasive study of the brain

Art by the incredible Greg Dunn (I REALLY!!! wish I could afford his work!)

Non-invasive research is difficult, especially when you’re working with something as complicated as the brain. Imagine being at a pro sports game outside the stadium and trying to figure out what’s going on inside just by listening. I’m constantly in awe that we can record activity from the brain without breaking the skin, it’s like magic. However, it’s still difficult and not without controversy.

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The uncertain future

old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.
old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.

My Co-PI is leaving! Or maybe he’s not? But he could be?! I don’t even know. It doesn’t help that he has no idea and there’s no real deadline for him to make a choice, it’s whenever he’s ready. In fact, we currently have a line graph with his daily percentage on staying or leaving. I wish I was joking. It’s not just my future I’m worried about, there are others in the lab, most of us wouldn’t be able to make the journey to his new workspace, even if we wanted to (and trust me when I say if I could, I would).

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Sometimes it rains

Brains are wild. I mean we have this misshapen jello blob stuck in our head and it somehow gives us the ability to be aware. We exist and think, feel, reason, all the stuff that makes us who we are. Brains are great, except when they aren’t. Depression is a horrible thing, which lives in the brain. You can’t “just be happy” anymore than someone could just be rich. Obviously when you live with chronic depression you got a dud of a brain. It may have to do with genetics, environmental factors, the way we were raised, or maybe it’s just horrible luck, but out of all the organs we can fix or replace, the brain is not one of them. You’re stuck as you and sometimes that sucks.

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Multi-paper madness!

HELLLP! I’m doing way too much writing and it’s the scientific kind, which is to say soul sucking! Okay, it’s not that bad, but for the past month it’s been a mad rush to get several different papers written. Today I plan to go over all the papers I’m working on, the progress I’ve made, and why I really hope I’ll never have this happen again. Far too much writing! It has to end eventually though, right?

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The hunt for knowledge

Sometimes science is like digital archeology. Thanks to the internet I have the sum of our collective knowledge at the tips of my fingers. I just need to ask the right question and I can find the answer. Unfortunately, the right question isn’t always the question you come up with. The right question may not be worded the exact way you think it should. The right question may not even be the right question at all, it’s just the first in a long list of questions you need to work through. In a digital world, we’re still stuck looking for ways to get the answers to questions the system may not understand. I’m on a hunt and so far I’ve been fairly lucky.

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Juggling papers

It finally happened, it’s the big deadline, or at least most of the stuff I have due is due pretty much right now. I’ve been working on three different papers, and now I have a fourth added to the mix that I sort of forgot about until my Co-PI asked me to review the work we did in that paper, so yeah a lot going on at the moment and it’s all basically writing. So of course I’m working hard on writing… this. The truth is I need a break so I figure blogging would be a good distraction while still feeling like I’ve accomplished something. It beats doom scrolling twitter until the entire day has passed me by.

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Programming overreach

This is what happens when I try to get fancy with the work I’m doing. I end up attempting to do things that aren’t done easily or if they are done easily, I figure out the hardest way possible for me to get them done. A week or so ago (here) I was excited because I came up with a super cool way to do something and I thought that the hardest part was behind me. Oh how wrong I was… but I’m close to figuring this out, I just need to do a lot of work to dig out of this hole I threw myself into. This is why you should never do anything fancy!

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A unique figure design

Over the past few weeks I’ve been hard a work making a new visualization for some of the data I’d recently processed. This again is for the project I won an award for (here), and while I’m not trying to brag, I’m super proud of how it came together. It was the first time I tried to do something like this and not only did my main-PI give me his approval it sounds like a lot of people from the lab were impressed with this as well. Unfortunately, I can’t quite give away what I did or how I did it, but I can share some of this.

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Initial results!

Okay I’m excited! I had a project my Co-PI offered me for the summer that I really, REALLY wanted to do (this one). We’ve been slowly collecting data and haven’t had a chance to do a detailed analysis of the result yet. It looked like we had something cool, but we weren’t sure what it was. Our data had a lot of noise in it (which is a given when working with EEG) and we needed to clean it to give us a better “view” of what was going on, so yesterday I sat down to do just that…

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Conferences in a pandemic

I’m vaccinated, I got vaccinated back before most of the public could because I work and do research at a hospital. Because I work with a vulnerable population, some of whom cannot be vaccinated, I still take the pandemic very seriously. I wear my mask like I wear any other piece of clothing and the hospital understands this risk because unlike schools and other places in the area, masks are still mandatory. It’s not just a vaccination issue, it’s that vaccines are 100% effective and not everyone can be vaccinated or has access to get vaccinated. So when my favorite conference came around, I was torn about attending… was.

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Start of summer experiments

Well today is the day! I’m just hours away from collecting my first dataset for my summer project. I’m excited, it’s a cool project and I get to be first author on the paper. The topic is impressive to me so I think it will be a good way to get my name out there in the field since this will be my first paper in my Co-PI’s lab (well first, first author paper). It’s a lot of responsibility and of course I don’t have any time to prep. The first experiment is always the hardest…

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Learning is sneaky

Three years ago this fall I walked into my main-PI’s lab for the first time and I knew nothing about the work we did. I was a mechanical engineer and had machining, solid modeling, and control experience. None of which helped me in my new position. Learning something new is a slow process. The more you learn the more you realize you don’t know anything and it feels like three years later I’m just as clueless as I was when I first set foot into the building. Learning is sneaky that way, you don’t always realize how far you’ve come.

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The start of a busy week

Splitting your time between two labs should be pretty straightforward, on one hand my two PI’s have come to an agreement about how my time should be split and in a 40 hour work week, each should get roughly 20 hours of my time dedicated to the things they are working on. Easy, except it isn’t. Both are used to 40 hours to their lab and I’m not complaining, I enjoy being wanted, but as my Co-PI pointed out I have a lot going on and I need a break. Literally he told me to take a break, it’s bad enough that my Co-PI is telling me to go home.

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Competing projects

With summer upon us I still have a few things to wrap up, but I am hoping that by the end of the month I should be able to take a breather for a few weeks/month we’ll have to wait to find out. The issue now is that my main-PI and my Co-PI both have projects for me to do and both of those projects are incredibly time consuming. Oh and they both want them done at roughly the same time. Sounds fun, right?

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My talk is today and you’re all invited!

Okay so I wanted to update everyone on how my first lecture went yesterday since I only had a few short days to throw everything together and it was a mad panic to the end. Unfortunately we cannot go into detail today! That’s because today is my “I’m giving a talk” talk (which I wrote about here). It’s free to watch, my talk is roughly four minutes long and is a nice little rundown of some of the work I do. So today I figure I will go into a bit of detail and should you be so inclined to attend you’ll get the chance to chat with me in person about my work! Yep, I’m breaking anonymity yet again, but it’s for a good reason.

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Depression, a tale of hunger

Let’s pretend you have a pet that is constantly hungry. You can’t leave the house, you can’t sleep, you can’t even take a shower because anytime you want to do something for yourself this monster of a pet just won’t allow it to happen. It’s hungry. It wants to be fed and it wants to be fed NOW. Oh you’re exhausted, feed it. You want to do something for yourself? Too bad, feed it. It’s all consuming, it never sleeps, it never is satisfied, and you cannot get rid of it. Chronic depression is the pet you never asked for that demands your attention all day, every day.

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Surgical shadow update!

Well I finished my surgical shadow today. Frankly I’m exhausted, maybe I was just too excited, but I got roughly zero sleep last night. That said, it went better than the last shadow where I had just gotten my second dose of vaccine the day before. Now that was not my idea of a fun time! So per the usual I cannot go into the details, but I can talk vaguely about what happened and what’s next.

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Another surgical shadow

Just FYI, I didn’t take this and I’m pretty sure it’s just a stock photo, but it works for the post. I wouldn’t want to cause any privacy issues.

Well it’s officially on the books! Monday (super early) morning I will be shadowing my second surgery. For those new around here this was the first. It was an awesome experience and I’m excited to do it again. Today we’ll talk about why I, as someone who does non-invasive research, is even attending surgeries and what I get out of them. There is an actual practical reason to attend, but it’s also just super interesting!

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The best laid plans…

The full quote is “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and is from a poem, but also inspired the book title, “Of mice and men”

Well this week has been a serious rollercoaster of emotion. There have been incredibly high highs and extremely low lows. It’s so bad I’m not even sure what’s going on at the moment and it’s throwing my entire life into chaos. I wish I were exaggerating, but unfortunately I am not. So what has me so out of sorts? My academic plans are entirely up in the air now. For the next few months (up to 6 months) I will have to sit and wait to figure out what I can do about it. Let’s just start at the beginning.

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Intro to ICA

Independent component analysis, probably not something you hear about all that often unless you’re in a field that uses it. If you’ve found this via google or the such, then you’re probably looking for an explanation on what the heck ICA is and how to use it. Fear not, today we’re going over the why of ICA, why it works, why we use it, and why it isn’t the perfect tool we wish it was. Hint, the reason it isn’t perfect is because of math, stupid math. Quick note, I’ll be focusing on EEG uses for ICA, but there are tons of other applications and this knowledge will still apply to them as well.

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