By Andre Archer ’17 (Kingston, Jamaica)

Math major, computer science and economics minor

Last summer I received some wise advice from one of my Macalester advisors: “Research is like trying to move a building. Most days it just doesn’t budge, but there’s going to be a day when you realize it moved an inch. And upon reflection, you’ll realize how much you accomplished from that inch.”

I’ve had to keep this advice in mind since becoming an intern last winter at the Neuromodulation Center in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Neurology.  There I help analyze the terabytes of data that come from the lab each day—more data than I’d ever seen in my life.

Neuromodulation is a growing field that involves using non-invasive techniques to understand and treat certain neurological disorders. It draws from many scientific areas, such as engineering, mathematics, biology, and chemistry, some of which I am already studying.

The department studies Parkinson’s disease in monkeys, and my role is to analyze the signals from electrode channels implanted in the brains of monkeys with and without Parkinson’s disease. These electrodes records signals, called Local Field Potentials, while the monkeys are completing a task. These signals contain information about the potential differences in certain regions of the brain.

We analyze this data using signal processing techniques. Specifically, we analyze the frequencies of the signals with the help of a spectrogram—a visual representation of a signal’s frequencies. We hope that by studying the changes in frequency, we can understand the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease as well as the effects of potential treatments.

During each lab session, we perform as many as 30 trials. Because of the amount of data we need to analyze, our team must come together to decide which techniques to use to synthesize the data. Brainstorming as a team is the best part of each day for me. I get the chance to apply the knowledge I’ve gained in the classroom and from past research experiences, while simultaneously contributing to and exploring a new and exciting field.

 

With any luck, I can continue this exciting research internship until I graduate next spring.



 

June 20 2016

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