Sunday, August 14, 2011

Week 6

It's hard to believe that six weeks have passed already. Below is a video of the design process we went through the past six weeks designing a new behavior box for use in studying optogenetics.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Week 5

Were you able to collect meaningful date?  Why or why not?
We haven't officially collected data directly relating to the research going on within our lab. The reason for this is because my lab partner and I have been constructing a behavior box that will enable them to do more advanced research. Our box is nearly done, we just have some fine tuning to do and hopefully we will be able to see an official run before our RET ends.

What were the hurdles in the research? How were they overcome (if they were overcome)?
We have had many problem solving issues that occurred during the process of making a better mouse behavior box. One of the hardest parts of the process was trying to find adequate materials so that we could stay within our budget. Also, once we had the supplies it was like looking at a gigantic puzzle with hundreds of pieces with no instructions. Neither my lab partner nor I can draw very well so we had very elementary drawings of what we thought the box should look like based on the needs of our postdoc. Somehow, through much trial and error, we settled on a design and were able to build a behavior box that can be easily modified  (or at least easier than the original) for a range of mouse behavior experiments. There are a few things about the box that I know could have been better but given our time constraints and lack of knowledge of how to construct a behavior boxes, I believe we did a descent job. It's definitely a much better design than the professional boxes that cost close to four times the cost of our box.

What expectations do you have the final week in your lab?
I expect to see our behavior box fully in action. In particular, I want to see the touch screen monitor portion of our behavior box. I am especially proud of being able to find this technical piece for them because they had been looking for a few weeks trying to find a monitor that fit a previously purchased touch screen. (Gotta love The touch screen will allow the researcher more flexibility in designing experiments and tasks for the mouse to perform. The digital display can be manipulated in a variety of ways and display triggers that are really limited by the imagination and curiosity of the researcher. I realize I will no longer be part of the lab but I am excited for the potential our behavior box has in uncovering new theories of how the brain operates and am looking forward to catching a small glimpse of this as they officially begin testing next week.

What final message do you have for you readers?
If you ever have the opportunity to do research, whether as an undergraduate, graduate, or postdoc student or just as a volunteer, I highly encourage you to try. There are a few undergraduate students that work in Dr. Han's lab just as an opportunity for summer work. Also, you don't have to be a genius to help a scientist with his or her research. I don't completely understand all of the background science of optogenetics, but through this experience I realized I possess certain skills as a teacher that were useful to the researchers in getting a new experiment up and running. For example, I was able to come up with some simple solutions to problems such as an LED being too bright and scaring the mice, simple solution: add resistance to the LED. The lab already had resistors that could easily be soldered on which saved them from ordering less powerful LED's. In conclusion, research is a team effort that requires people of varying levels of skill to reach a goal. Sometimes the researchers get too wrapped up in advanced topics that they don't see an easier solution that may be right in front of them.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Week 4

How has this experience changed my perspective on research?
The RET has strengthened my already existing views on the importance of research. These past four weeks I have been telling people I feel like I am living in a science fiction novel. Most people are familiar with the saying "Today's science fiction is tomorrow's science fact." The research going on behind the doors of Dr. Han's lab reinforced my perspective on this saying. Although it may be decades down the road, their research of further mapping and understanding how the mouse brain works could impact our understanding of how humans think and learn and transform the ways we educators teach.

How has it impacted your idea of your own competence in research?
I was somewhat anxious before the RET began because I was unsure of what exactly to expect and thought my knowledge and skills as a science teacher would not be useful to the researchers with whom I I would be working. I was incredibly mistaken and surprised by how much we genuinely could help and how the skills I have acquired while teaching were directly pertinent to our task of designing a better mouse behavior box.

How do I envision changes in my classroom as a result of this experience?
I have always wanted to inspire my students to become lifelong learners and tried various lessons to get my students interested in science. However, by the time students make it in to high school they often have severe scientific misconceptions and bad habits so engrained into them that it is near impossible to unteach some of these ideas and behaviors. In order to help combat this I plan to use strategies that cater more to how the current generation learns. The video about our students being digital learners really encouraged me to seek out more ways to incorporate technology into the class. I like the text in voting and the idea of blogging homework assignments to increase student interest and involvement with daily lessons and science content in general.