Jan-Jun 2019 – Delays, creative days, and piloting

Six months seems like a good amount of time to look back and document the progress of NERHYMUS. Besides, procedures, finances, other research and outreach activities have slowed this project a tiny bit down.

Research

In the beginning of the year I applied for 30 hours of MRI scanning, in order to cover the planned anatomical and functional MRI parts of NERHYMUS. It turned out that the research budget available was not enough to scan 40 participants (20 musicians and 20 non-musicians) for the functional MRI data. It was a disappointment to realize that, but my professor and I were flexible and managed to come up with an alternative plan. Since the fMRI study flew out of the window, we decided to include one more session for the EEG study. This would be supported by the NIBS lab team, who suggested to not only have sham as a control condition but to include a control site as well.

In February I started with a few anatomical MRI sessions, including control participants. These sessions continued until May. In order to start with the EEG measurements we also had to create a third stimuli list for the third EEG-TMS session. This meant some more work on cutting audio files and normalizing them, which was done by my students and myself in March and April. When we were finally ready to start acquiring EEG data in May, there was a research practical occupying the lab for a month. I managed to squeeze one EEG session within the research practical, but there were some issues with the playing of the audio files. There was a hardware issue, which was later solved by Instrumentation, and a software issue, which I fixed myself. These times of delays and technical issues are very consuming for the researcher. I got demotivated and disillusioned about research. I got particularly frustrated because I realized that the project that I had envisioned, planned, and got funding for was not realistic after all. I guess this is how things run in research. I am trying to now make my peace with it, even though I still don’t see how I was supposed to wrap up this project within the time of 2 years funding. I am now saying, keep calm, carry on, doing the best you can.

Well, enough wining and reflecting. When we finally managed to run our first pilots in June, my motivation climbed back up rapidly.

Now, the only thing I am a bit worried about is how I will manage to supervise my master students so that they finish their thesis on time, but that’s at least not a fundamental issue with research. I am very thankful to Teresa Schuhmann, Sanne ten Oever, Stefano Gallotto, and Felix Dücker from the NIBS lab, who have helped me through the first sessions with EEG and TMS.

Also very thankful to my first participant and student, who’s patience and resilience have allowed us to complete the first few sessions and acquiring the pilot data sets.

Next steps are: pre-processing and analyzing the new data, so that we optimize the analysis on the single subject level, before we proceed to the group level.

On the ground of recruiting musicians for NERHYMUS, in May I met with Hanna Kesseler, a lecturer in the Conservatorium Aachen, and she is helping us to recruit some of her students. I have sent her a poster advertising the study and she has distributed it among her students.

About the collaboration with Thanos Lykartsis on the audio content analysis for my speech stimuli, in April we submitted a poster for SNL 2019 in Helsinki and we are going to present our latest findings there. The reviewers suggested that we show some correlation to the EEG data, with at least a few data sets, and I am now working towards this goal by analyzing the pilot data.

In April the editing work of about 1,5 years came to an end with the publication of the special issue “From Story Comprehension to the Neurobiology of Language”, which I edited together with my PhD thesis supervisor Prof. Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky. Finally holding the special issue in my hand was a very special moment.

Teaching

The last months I wrapped up my teaching duties for this academic year. First, I gave individual feedback to each of my Writing Skills students. They all seemed satisfied with the level of detail and delivery of the feedback. Most of them implemented the feedback in its whole, others were a bit sloppier. I then graded their final papers and that was done!

I also had a second individual meeting with all of my mentoring students. Most of them succeeded in passing their exams and were satisfied/happy with their progress. One dropped out because she realized that she wants to study physics. A few others are taking their re-sits in summer and hopefully they can stay on board, since they really want it.

Outreach

During these months I worked really hard, sometimes feeling that I am doing two jobs, on organizing the Pint of Science festival in Maastricht. I co-ordinated a “taster” event in February, which was aimed to introduce Pint of Science to the Maastricht people and advertise for the festival in May.

In March, April, and until the 22nd of May I was busy planning meetings, putting up posters, updating all involved volunteers about workshops, meetings, dates, venues and so on. It was an amazing experience, to be at the heart of the biggest science festival! I am so very thankful to all the Maastricht team for their willingness, energy, inspiration and their bright volunteering eyes! Here is a pic of the event managers.

And here is the director of Pint of Science Netherlands, Taichi Ochi, and I, in the last event managers meeting in mid May.

On May 22nd I gave a talk at the Pint of Science festival in the event “Of beastly brains and brainy beasts” organized by Xan Duggirala. I was thrilled to share my research with the public and also watch the (almost classic by now) video of the dancing cookatoo. People enjoyed this and we shared our enthusiasm for science, very rewarding! In this picture we are performing a rhythm activity.

In February and May I also visited two local schools and gave two workshops on “Asking questions to the brain”.

I first introduced EEG, fMRI, and TMS in simple terms, then I presented insights about rhythm, and finished with the NERHYMUS research question. The kids looked curious and interested, even the ones that were “too cool for school” in the beginning, by the end of the workshop they were asking questions and were involved in the activities. Very inspiring to talk to children/teenagers about my research and see their curious faces!

In the first workshop we even included a demo of the mobile EEG lab!

Dance stuff

In June I gave a dance workshop for students at Maastricht University, to help them connect with their bodies, breathe, relax and express themselves through movement.

This workshop was very well received. People were especially happy that I am also a UM researcher and I have been through my own PhD path as well. I am planning to repeat this in the Well-Being week 2019 in November and possibly set up an 8-week course of Modern Movement within the scope of the Well-Being Movement for students.

That was it for now. Some good, some less good updates, but I’m keeping up the good spirit and the highest of standards in research. Plan is to focus on streamlining my scientific publications. More on this hopefully on the next update!

Cheerio, K.

 

 

 

 

December 2018 – Connecting to people

December was a shorter month than the previous ones, as I left for the Christmas break on the 19th. However, there was good progress made in research, collaborations, student supervision, invited talks, and outreach. The reason I called this month connecting to people, is that I got two new students, I have a closer collaboration with Thanos, and we got a lot of resonance from the Maastricht people volunteering for Pint of Science. I even got called “the pint of science lady” once! But, let’s get started.

Research

In December, I got a bit more training into the TMS methodology, by Teresa Schumann. We also filled in the project proposal form for the Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation committee to approve. This made me think about the exact parameters of the stimulation, the equipment and the analysis pipeline of the EEG data. Some formal details:

  1. NIBS lab required: NIBS1
  2. Equipment required:
    • TMS-compatible EEG caps by EASYCAP (sizes 54, 56, and 58cm)
    • R30
    • MC-B70 coil
    • Sham B70 coil
    • Neuronavigation
  3. Number of participants: 40 (20 per group)
  4. Number and length of sessions per participants:
    • Number of sessions: 2 (sham and real stimulation)
    • Length per session: 1h in NIBS1, 3 hours in total
    • Minimal amount of days between sessions: 1 week
  5. Stimulation parameters:
    • Intensity: cTBS (600 pulses) at max 100% resting motor threshold,
    • Site: right pre-SMA
    • Localisation: using structural MRI scan, identifying the pre-SMA for each participant individually based on TAL coordinates.
  6. EEG Recording
    • Number of EEG electrodes: 64
    • Hardware low pass filter setting (Hz): 0.1 Hz
    • Hardware high pass filter setting (Hz) or time constant (s): 100 Hz
    • Sampling rate: 500 Hz
    • Amplifier gain:1 microV
    • Measurement reference electrode location: left mastoid
    • Additional electrodes used for off-line rereferencing: right mastoid
    • Locations of electrodes recording eye movements and blinks: Fp1, Fp2
    • Location ground electrode: AFz
  7. Analysis
    • Software package(s) used: MNE Python
    • Procedure for handling eye artifacts : Artifact correction with ICA
    • Describe intended analysis (ERP/Time-frequency/frequency bins/MVPA/source localization/connectivity etc): ERP analysis time-locked to the beat onset, and time-frequency analysis to find out which frequencies are more sensitive to beat perception
    • Are you intending to do any analysis on data recorded during the stimulation? No

Research collaboration

My collaboration with Thanos Lykartsis is going very well. Thanos delivered the first audio analysis of the stimuli. The beat tracking algorithm can classify very well between male vs. female voices and story vs. poem.

Teaching/Supervising

I received 4 applications for master thesis internships, of which I accepted 2 and I am very happy to have two new people. These new people brought me hope that I will have help to conduct the experiment and analysis together.

Invited talk in Marburg

On December 13th I gave a talk in the Neurolinguistics Colloquium of Philipps-University Marburg, where I defended my PhD three years ago. It was moving to go back after these few years, and explain what I have learned on the way. My talk was focused on the how to “go natural” in the neurobiology of language. I explained in detail how I created the stories for my PhD research and what were the objectives of our approach at Imperial College London. I also gave a sneak peak into how I am planning to model the responses in NERHYMUS.

Outreach

Pint of Science is going very well, we have a couple of volunteers as event managers and we sent out a big university-wide call to ask for more volunteers. This call was, to my surprise, presented also in the narrowcasters at Oxfordlaan 55, in the cafe banditos, see picture.

Last, I leave you with my favorite view of my home town in Greece, Heraklion.

KDK

October 2018 – Planning and progress

In October a lot of progress was made, and I am getting closer to having the experiment ready to pilot.

Stimuli

I have finally completed the stimuli recordings in early October.

Now the intern, Anna, is making the final audio files and also the comprehension questions and answers that will be presented after every 3-4 minutes of audio.

Experiment script

Even though I had started programming the experiment in psychopy, I decided to use the existing MATLAB script made by Hugo Weissbart in my previous lab, in order to save time. This has been proven a wise choice as I am close to running this script in the lab now. I have started working on the MATLAB script on my office computer and I ran into software and hardware issues, so I thought I would try to test the script in the lab. In the lab I didn’t have these issues and the script ran further. Then I decided to work on the script only in the lab, as it will need to be running properly there anyway.

Behavioral study

In a productive meeting with Sonja and Ben, we decided to run the behavioral study after the EEG study and use exactly the same stimuli as in the EEG study. In this way we will have a measurement of beat placement accuracy for each sentence (or auditory segment) that the participants will hear in the EEG recordings. We also had a subsequent meeting with our collaborator Thanassis Lykartsis in Berlin, and we agreed on the time line of the next steps. By mid November I will send Thanos and Ben the audio stimuli of the EEG experiment, so that they can ran the beat trackers and find the beat onsets in the audio signal.

Teaching

I held my first group mentor meeting in early October, which went better than I had anticipated. The students were motivated to discuss in groups about learning practices, which ones help them the best. Also, they were willing to reflect on experiences that helped them realize what helps them study more effectively. They came up with a couple of pieces of advice for themselves, which they wrote on the board. Here they are:

I also had my first meeting with the Writing Skills group, in which I helped the students make their questions more suitable for a scientific study, in the form of literature review. The questions needed to be specific enough and well formulated, in order to give a good directive on the content of the review. Even though I stated preference to supervise students in topics related to language processing, 4 out of 9 students were interested in other topics, such as Drugs and the Brain. I gave them the freedom to write about what they are interested in, but acknowledged the fact that I cannot provide academic feedback on the content. However, as this is a writing skills course, the most important task is to learn how to write and I am strongly confident that I can help them with this task.

Social media presence

I will be contributing to sharing BAND-LAB news into facebook and twitter, as agreed in a meeting with Xan and Alex at the end of October, both members of the BAND-LAB. I am looking forward to sharing our news, publications, calls for subjects, projects for students, or even just fun lab outing pictures.

Other fun stuff

On October 10th, the BAND-LAB visited the local vineyard called De Apostelhoeve and had a tour of the vineyard and wine tasting. They produce only white wines and have a small production. The flavors were beautiful. Here is a collage of casual pictures.

Rosie had a flower on October 2nd, when we turned on the heating and she thought that it was going to be summer again. I am happy I captured it, because it wasn’t there on the next day. Here it is.

Dat was het voor oktober.

KDK