14 July 2011


Since the project for this experiment is having a final box for training and taking data about the mice then there are steps that are involved with building the piece of equipment for the lab.

The first step, building a prototype, was completed during the first week.  A good prototype is something that is relatively cheap and easy to make but allows the user to evaluate how effective the instrument will be.  For this project a prototype box was build using a mixture of metal bars, brackets, and screws that will be used in the final set up along with cardboard for the walls to gauge dimensions and practicality of the box.  The box will soon be tested with some actual mice to check the viability of the set up.

Having built the prototype of the box, the next step is to build the actual box itself.  To do this step however requires a small side step, the creating of a materials list.  This side step is where the first wave of patience plays is part.  When making a materials list it is important to know what materials are needed, how many of each item, as well as the vendors that are being purchased from.  This process can take some time to complete.  First is the fact that funding for research comes largely from grants which sometimes can have limitations on who and where items can be bought from.  After sorting out the limitations on the grant if they exist (which luckily for this project did not), then begins the search for the right materials and prices.  Since there is only so much money in grants, the bulk of the time compiling a materials list is looking for some thrifty finds that are from reliable locations that can also be sent within a reasonable time to build the box.  How long does it take to compile a materials list?  It certainly depends on what the project is but for this project took approximately a day and a half.  This included meeting with our principle investigator (PI) Xue Han and one of the post doctoral fellows (post docs) in her lab about materials, then searching for materials, followed by a discussion with the post doc and other members in the lab about options for some of the materials.  This was followed by more searching when one of the items changed slightly, another discussion with the post doc to double check the list and one final search and decision on materials since there was another item that was decided to add to the list.  Then the list was organized in a way easily understood to expedite the process and then sending out the order.

Now that the materials have been ordered, patience is what is needed until the materials arrive.  What is done until then?  Time is definitely a commodity in the research lab so it should be used wisely.  While waiting for materials to arrive the best course of action is to start working on the next step of the process, and if that is not possible, preparing for the next step in the process.

What has been done since the ordering?  The next step for this project is creating an understanding of Labview, a graphical computing tool, to help in programming the box once it has been put together and functioning.  It is the Labview program which recognizes when the mice initiate the trial and then runs the devices and collects the data about the mice and the box.

How does one even start to learn a programming language like Labview?  What we did was get copies of the current programs running for the mice trials, print out copies to write on, and then started dissecting the program.  One of the great things about programming is that once you have learned some computer programming, no matter the language, it starts to get easier and easier in learning new ones.  Many computer programming languages use similar constructs, even if they are worded or look a little different.  Before fully dissecting the program it helps to build first a general knowledge of the program itself.  Simply run a search for the basics and begin the process.  For Labview we found some basics on the National Instruments website along with a couple of others that explained some simple programs.  If your a visual learner, it helps to find videos with some examples (such as the National Instruments website had).  After that, with the basic knowledge in hand, to dissect the program involves both looking at the program with the icons and connections as well as searching for what certain objects are doing and what their functions are, then going back to the program and piecing together the meaning.  When attempting to create meaning out of a program it is vital to understand what the purpose of the program is and what the program is ultimately supposed to do.  If these items are not known, it will dramatically increase the difficulty of gaining a full understanding of the program.  After doing all one can, if possible, it is great to talk to the program creator or the one in charge of it to ask any questions that may have appeared and checking one's understanding of the program.  However learning programming is like an exponential curve and it, too, takes patience.

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