Learning Something Really Exciting (If You Like Science)

This past week, I got to do something really exciting: I learned how to clean EEG data.  Most of you are probably now rereading the first sentence with a lot of supposed sarcasm, but I’m not joking.  I really did think it was exciting.  My project coordinator taught me how to identify bad electrodes, vertical eye movements, and horizontal eye movements in the lines of EEG data.  I already knew what they looked like from the data collection when we show the participants their brain waves, but there was something markedly different about identifying them today in training.  Maybe it’s because cleaning the data gets our lab one step closer to seeing what, exactly, all of the many hours we have all spent recruiting and running participants has led up to.  Or, maybe I just really, really love science, and I think it’s incredible that a program like this exists and that I get to use it.


Either way, I called my mom up right after I got out of training and was still bursting from my tightly controlled excitement. It was kind of like the time I sent her a link for a video on YouTube that showed the movement of atoms, and all I could do for about ten minutes was repeat “ATOMS, Mom! ATOMS! You can see ATOMS! How is that not the coolest thing you’ve ever seen?!” This time, though, it was “EYE MOVEMENTS, Mom! You can see EYE MOVEMENTS! And you can INTERPOLATE bad electrodes just based on the ones around them! Isn’t that AMAZING?!”


I think my mom deserves some sort of award for putting up with my unbridled enthusiasm for science. But isn’t my excitement warranted? I mean, come on. We have technology that can tell you what is going on inside someone’s head (including things the participant isn’t aware of). We don’t necessarily know yet why we see a particular reaction, but that’s what science is for!


Although what we’re doing (and capable of doing) is a far cry from “reading minds,” I still have to marvel at the incredible technology that we have access to. It never fails to astound me that the stacks of squiggly lines running across the computer screen are a result of what someone was thinking, and that after we process the data, it will tell us something meaningful.