Tuesday, November 5, 2013

URSP Student Katrina Nguyen Researches the Influence of Method of Applied Perturbing Force on Retention of Motor Adaptation

I have always been interested in the eyes and its visual pathway – especially in cases such as amblyopia. This condition often affects only one eye, and occurs when the brain essentially ignores the visual processing of the eye to prevent double-vision. When detected early, the chance of successfully equalizing the vision between both eyes is high. However, after a certain age, this condition is considered untreatable although there is nothing physically wrong with the eyeball. This fact caught my attention. The underlying problem lies in the brain because the pathway is not developed to its full visual potential. Though currently untreatable, I believe with more knowledge and understanding of the eyes and brain, this problem will be solved.  When I brought this topic up to my mentor, Dr. Wilsaan Joiner, a project that fit both his research area and my interests was proposed. 

      The project I am currently working on deals with learning and memory formation using motor adaptation as a means of measurement. In these types of experiments, subjects grip a robotic handle and are instructed to move the handle from point A to B. During these movements, an external force that is perpendicular to the path is applied. Over time, participants learn to compensate for these forces to continue moving in a straight line during the trial. The goal of this research is to primarily see whether the curve of the retention rate falls along the same curve as learning the task.

      Being a part of a research project and lab continues to provide invaluable skills and experience that I will take away with me as I move along in my career. I attend lab meetings and work side-by-side with fellow lab members, which has given me a sense of the process and work need to be put forth when doing research. On a weekly basis, I work in the Sensorimotor Integration Lab and help program and determine the tasks and protocols needed for the KINARM Robotic System alongside my two professors and a grad student. This week, I have started the preliminary analysis of the data obtained from the pilot study. Beginning the analysis of my data has showed me that even though you have everything planned out and know what you want, things do not always go according to plan. Trying to graph a simple curve may not take minutes, but days trying to put together an efficient code that is not specific to a single project. Working on the analysis has given me a glimpse of the hurdles and obstacles that are always present when doing research. However, being able to overcome them and contribute to the bioengineering field is what makes doing research so rewarding in the end.