A Tough Egg to Crack

When I first looked at the list of 11 objectives I was given for my group’s research this summer, I thought we would easily finish them in 2 weeks, 3 weeks tops. It has now been 2 weeks. The only thing I can say is, ”Boy, was I wrong!”

I first started to have my doubts when we pulled out this monster:
We dug this EEG (electroencephalogram) machine out of the basement of McMullen. With minimal instruction we were told, “Figure out how it works!”

With no operator’s manual, this turned out to be a difficult task. My peak frustration was doing a Google search on something EEG related to have the search engine ask back, “Do you mean EGG?”

We’ve made several baby steps toward our objective of figuring out how it works. We stuck electrodes on our arms and got the pens to draw on the paper. We contacted the manufacturer and were sent a manual. Dr. Carol DeVolder who had prior experience with the equipment came in to give us some help and confirm some of our findings. The original owner, Dr. Dave Stockdale who manages Trinity Sleep Lab, is coming to talk to us Friday afternoon.

Some important questions we still need to answer are if there is any reverse current flow (making the machine unsafe) and how to get it to record meaningful data on a computer.

The experience has given me a greater appreciation for scientific research. Published journal articles sound so pleasant. They don’t include all the trial-and-error, anger, doubt, monkey scars, and work that go into a project. The job of an article is to present results, not stories. In reality, research is a messy process.

Each day I’m getting better at asking the right questions and finding more useful answers. We’re exploring alternative measures of neural activity in case we can’t get the above equipment to work. We will keep plugging along in trail-and-error fashion through the research until we make some more cracks. No yolk. -Kristin Upah

(“The long-term goal of this project is to develop a simple, affordable upper limb prosthetic that functions similar to our own hand and arm. In order to better understand how humans control their hand movements, in this first phase, students will be studying neural recordings from electro-encephalograms (EEG) of humans reaching to and grasping a set of objects designed to create a large range of joint angles and comparing it to data previously collected in monkeys. The goal is to then create a simplified control algorithm for an electro-mechanical prosthetic that will function much like a normal hand.”)


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