One of my favorite laboratory duties here at YPEP is working with fMRI data and images. These images are 3D pictures of the brain that are taken by displacing hydrogen molecules. After being magnetically drawn out of place, the realigning movement of these molecules is recorded, mapping out the brain based upon the density of different brain areas. I’ve also been learning fMRI scan protocol, and assisting my supervisor with scanning participants. Today I got my first chance to help run a participant through an MRI scan!
The visit begins by checking the participant’s mood and a standard drug test. The participant then completes two computer game tasks which allow the participant to practice the tasks he or she will complete in the MRI machine. After these two tasks are complete, the subject is checked for metal (no metal is allowed in the same room as the MRI machine!), and taken to the MRI room.
Once we are in the room, I attach eight sensors to the participant. These sensors allow the researcher to track various vital signs. The participant is then placed within the MRI machine (which makes me think of a giant, loud washing machine) and completes a series of tasks while images of the brain are recorded. These pictures reveal what areas of the brain are actively being used while the participant completes the tasks. The participant must remain very still as pictures are taken. My job at this point is to communicate with the participant, making sure that the noise of the MRI machine is not making him or her anxious. I also keep track of when each task is run while communicating with the MRI technician and my supervisor. Speaking of which, I’ve gotta go review MRI preprocessing. I’ll keep you posted!