Brains on Brains Week 10: Institute of Occupational Health

This week’s excursion to Institute of Occupational Health was very good. I honestly didn’t have any idea about the scale of neurophysiological research they do there. The list of neuroscientists, medical doctors and other professionals linked to that work was quite long. They even have a small sleep laboratory and they sometimes build their own research tech (or modify devices they have bought).

At least for me it was more meaningful now that the lectures have ended and it was easier to understand the science behind their projects. The sleep lab was interesting, of course, but we didn’t really have time to go through the research they are doing (at least not deeply). For me the highlight was definitely the part where we learned about their field research and the technology they use (and sometimes build) to study things like combat stress in military and work-related stress.

It was useful to learn about different tools, their pros and cons, and get some understanding on the restrictions this kind of field research can have. It’s quite easy to get good data in a lab, but things get more complicated when the subjects are the ones using the equipment. This excursion and what I learned will help in the future when I’m planning my own test scenarios. It’s interesting that small portable devices that look like normal heart rate monitors or activity trackers can gather data like EEG and store it for analysis. The information about EEG signal noise, for example, was something I hadn’t thought about really and it motivated me to read more about it. I found some articles about resampling and using filters like low pass and high pass filter. After using the same techniques in audio work (both professionally and in my studies) this seems quite amusing.

My research is about virtual reality and in previous studies some methods like fMRI have proven difficult because of the restrictions they have regarding user’s movement (and especially the head, which is one key element of interactive VR). EEG and gaze tracking have been used a lot and this excursion also included some information on those. Being able to these “in the field” sounds like an interesting opportunity. Could it result in different data than doing the same tests in a lab environment? Even if the people are just using VR headsets (rather than taking part in a heavy military excercise) it seems like a plausible thing to expect some differences in data depending on the environment. Visiting a lab in some university basement or using the equipment in one’s own home has to be a different experience. But does it show in the data?

Posted by Tatu

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