Can you do neuroscience research outside of the lab?

Elizabeth Ricker
Oct 5, 2018 · 5 min read

The brain is one of the most fascinating, complex, and deeply personal wonders of the world. Each of us carries one around each day, but very few of us get to see ours in action. But what if we could? We might discover truths not written in any textbook, yet.

Brain imaging equipment can cost millions of dollars and precise observational methods can require extensive training. This adds up to neuroscience researchers keeping all the brain-peeking fun to themselves, basically hanging out in labs discussing biological jewels that few others get to see. In fact, we enjoy hanging out there so much that even when we recruit people to participate in our research, we don’t even go to them. We require that they visit us in our labs. Then, we conduct the research behind closed doors, and if we’re lucky, the fruits of our work get published in academic journals, but locked behind paywalls. Wait, sorry, I got carried away, that’s a rant for another day. Back on topic.

Here’s my question: what if we could reverse this picture and go meet people where they are — by doing neuroscience research out in public?

On April 29, 2017, I began to do just that.

But really, why do it?

The March for Science in San Francisco agreed to take my organization (NeuroEducate) on as a partner, and I set up a booth there. With the help of wonderful research partners at Sapien Labs, as well as generous support from Muse, Muse Monitor, and a team of amazing volunteers, I went out into the crowds of San Francisco and showed people their brain activity in real time.

Image for post
Image for post
Huge thanks to the brilliant and kind Cheryl Isaacson at Lincoln Street Studios, the mastermind behind this short film.

After the March, a postdoc friend of mine at Stanford Medical School decided to join in on the next adventure. There was a music festival coming up that had expressed interest, and it seemed like a good event for us to set up our little mobile research shop. We had some questions, though…

Would gathering brain activity out in the open air at a music festival actually work?

What would people do while we recorded from them?

…Neuroscience out in the open?

My collaborator and I put together a poster and submitted it to the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society. They were intrigued enough to accept it to their 2018 conference; this past weekend, we flew out to Los Angeles to present.

These were the three questions we asked in our research (and covered in our poster):

  1. If we set up a booth at an open-air festival, would many participants volunteer to provide EEG data?
  2. Would the participant population be more diverse than traditional studies?
  3. Could we successfully replicate traditional laboratory protocols in a naturalistic setting? Also, could we get any kind of decent EEG data, given that we were outside, it was noisy, we had to convince people to sit still, etc?

Spoiler alert: We were pleasantly surprised…Details in the poster below.

Image for post
Image for post
The big question…Could we capture usable amounts of brain activity data (using mobile EEG) from people sitting quietly, first with their eyes open and then with their eyes closed? Details above.

If you’re interested in getting involved in conducting neuroscience outside of the lab (as a participant, a researcher, a sponsor, etc), or if you’re just wondering what other projects we’re up to, we’d love to hear from you! Just email info@neuroeducate.com.

NeuroEducate

The Medium.com

Elizabeth Ricker

Written by

Neuro nerd + human guinea piggy. Squash coaching (the sport, not the plant). Art (sometimes). Startups (often). MIT->Harvard-> San Francisco. ericker.com.

NeuroEducate

The Medium.com home of NeuroEducate articles. For more about us and our projects, visit us at www.neuroeducate.com

Elizabeth Ricker

Written by

Neuro nerd + human guinea piggy. Squash coaching (the sport, not the plant). Art (sometimes). Startups (often). MIT->Harvard-> San Francisco. ericker.com.

NeuroEducate

The Medium.com home of NeuroEducate articles. For more about us and our projects, visit us at www.neuroeducate.com

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store