Friday, October 30, 2015

New Publications!

Its been a pretty great week for the Neural Instrumentation Lab in terms of publications. My former graduate student, Alessandro Napoli, and I have recently published two papers together about multielectrode array dynamics with rat and human neurons. We're pretty proud of these, if we do say so ourselves...

Article 1
Investigating brain functional evolution and plasticity using micro electrode array technology
Brain Research Bulletin

Article 2
Comparative Analysis of Human and Rodent Brain Primary Neuronal Culture Spontaneous Activity Using Micro-Electrode Array Technology
Journal of Cellular Biochemistry

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Football Stadium

Depending where you live, you might be aware that Temple's football team is having a pretty good year, and the powers that be are capitalizing on the momentum to put together a deal to build a stadium on campus. Currently, Temple's football games are played at Lincoln Financial Field, which is where the Eagles play, on the other side of Philadelphia.

I don't really see the wisdom in building a stadium on campus. For starters, there's no great place to put it. More pressingly, there's zero (literally) space for parking. And finally, there's no great way for 35,000 fans to get to Temple's campus all at once. It's a logistical mystery.

More importantly are the financial question marks. The administrators claim that tuition dollars won't be used to fund any of the operation, but its hard to see how any future losses would otherwise be absorbed.

Happily, someone did the research into how these things usually turn out. This article is fantastic. I think everyone at Temple should read it:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Announcement: New DoD Grant!

I'm thrilled to announce a new DoD grant in collaboration with my partner Dr. Carole Tucker. Our grant is titled "Automated Assessment of Postural Stability" and its goal is to study computer automated methods for measuring balance deficits in military personnel as a proxy for concussion. The award is for three years.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Concussion ... The Movie

I'm excited to see the trailer for the upcoming movie "Concussion" starring Will Smith about CTE in the NFL...

Friday, July 10, 2015

NSF I-Corps

Team "AutoEEG" - Me, Mentor Lou Bucelli, and
Grad Student / Entrepreneurial Lead Meysam Golmohammadi
This week I attended the NSF Innovation Corps (or I-Corps, for short) program. It was held in Chicago and attended by about 80 people. I-Corps is a program intended to teach researchers how to develop research creations for commercialization. NSF wants more of the science and engineering it funds to enter the marketplace, and so it is teaching academics how to be entrepreneurs. It follows the Steve Blank method, which as far as I can tell is similar or related to the Lean Startup approach.

The program instructors are all entrepreneurs. Each team includes three people: the Principal Investigator (the academic whose research lab birthed the technology), the Entrepreneurial Lead (typically a grad student or postdoc who will do the lions share of the business development), and a Mentor (an experienced entrepreneur who will guide the team). The program is seven weeks long. The kick-off week is held in person, followed by five weekly all-afternoon Webex meetings and lectures. Then we'll head back to Chicago on Week 7 for wrap-up meeting in person.

The main point of the program is to use the scientific method (data driven hypothesis testing) to discover who you customers are, what quantifiable value your product brings to them, and whether there is a viable pathway to deliver your technology to them. The trap academics fall into (we are told) is to have assumptions about what the customer wants. This leads many people to spend time solving a problem that customers might not care that much about, or that customers might not be able to use or integrate into their workflow, or pay for, etc. The only way to do this is to go out and talk to as many people as humanly possible to find out what their needs are, how they work, who makes financial decisions, etc etc. We are expected to interview at least 100 people at all levels of the customer pipeline over the next seven weeks. We've been given a pretty healthy budget to support us traveling around and meeting with people, but its still going to be hard (that's over 15 interviews per week!). The hypothesis-driven method makes a lot of sense. You make a hypothesis like "Neurologists at community hospitals are unhappy with how much time they spend reading EEGs". You can then test this hypothesis by speaking to neurologists, and depending on the outcome, set up another testable hypothesis. In this manner, you drill down until you understand which customer is feeling the worst pain that you can address (and that they can pay for).

The boot-camp was pretty brutal. For three days, all I had time to think about was how to advance our business concept. The set-up was similar to Shark Tank on TV. Our team would get up to discuss our technology and sometimes we'd get yelled at during our very first sentence. The honest was brutal, but also refreshing. The mantra was that we shouldn't be afraid to discover that our 'baby' is ugly :)

So I'm looking forward to the next seven weeks. We'll be busy, but hopefully we'll learn how to get a sustainable business launched...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Plane of the Ecliptic

This post has nothing to do with engineering, interfaces, brains, or Nicaragua, but I thought it was cool nonetheless. I took these photos tonight (6/22/2015, Philadelphia) and Friday evening (6/19/2015, Managua). You can see that the angle of the plane of the ecliptic is very different in the two pictures. I tried to measure the angle in both pictures (very rough estimate) and they seem to be about (62.5-28.3) = 34.2 degrees apart. This number should be roughly the same as their differences in latitude, which google tells me is (40d [Philly] - 12d [Managua]) = 28 degrees. That's pretty close considering my non-scientific measurement approach. Pretty neat!!!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Nicaragua - Day 27

We finally reached the end of the program. Well, at least the first month, which is where my contribution ends. The last week was filled with a handful of interesting labs. One of them involved us picking through a big box of old medical equipment that someone had left in the school supply closet for us to look at. We took apart a blood pressure cuff, a nebulizer, and a few other odds and ends. The nebulizer was fun because it seem to follow the same basic pattern that all other suction and pressure devices follow. We tried to strip it down to its barest minimum, but were foiled by a lousy screw that stripped itself into smithereens and would not budge. In another lab, the students programmed a PIC to interface with a thermal probe to measure temperature and to set an alarm in case the ambient temperature was too low or too high. The students had to attempt to calibrate the system by mapping the arbitrary units from the analog to digital converter into degrees Celsius. The thermal sensor wasn't exactly the most accurate gizmo ever, so it was a challenging lab, but still enlightening. One highlight was the various methods students took to raise the temperature of their probe in order to calibrate it. One team put their probe in a ziplock bag and dipped it in the coffee pot only to discover that their ziplock bag was not exactly waterproof!

A thermal probe unit in a very leaky ziplock bag.

Yesterday, Friday, I took three students back to Nandaime hospital where we attempted wh tie up some loose ends. First thing on the agenda was the fetal doppler unit which I screwed up a couple weeks ago. Thanks to some friends of ours who flew in Thursday night from the United States, I had brand new mini USB Type B connectors in hand, and we were able to desolder the old connector and put in the new one without too much fanfare. unfortunately, I think we must have damaged some of the traces on the board during our first attempt to fix it and we were unable to get it working. I tried to guess where the broken traces might be so that I could short them but no luck. Well, at least we gave it everything we had. We also started working on an electric heater. We added a power cord (which somebody had cut off) but that didn't seem to be the only problem. We didn't have time to get to the bottom of it, but I'm pretty sure the heating coil needed a massive scrub because it was completely rusted through. For comic relief, we were handed a floor lamp that looked pretty new but we were told it didn't work. In trying to diagnose the problem, I happened to pull on one wire and the whole lamp snapped into life. I guess we got lucky! As the director of the hospital wryly noted, well at least you fix the lamp today. A bit of a hollow victory, but a victory none the less.

My biggest "engineering" victory of the week was replacing a light switch at my old homestay. You take your victories where you can!

The students are officially sufficiently trained to spend a month working in hospitals. They are a great bunch, and I expect they will all learn something and find some way of being of service to their various hospitals. I'm looking forward to keeping up with their exploits once I'm back home. And naturally, I take credit for all their successes and none of their failures :)

I'm off to the beach for a few days before heading back to Philadelphia. See you all soon.