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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

“I don’t want to be the test subject”, one student in the waiting room of the Erasmus Behavioural Lab decides. There are nine students in the waiting room who will shortly be divided into three groups for the practical and who will have to stick electrodes on each other for EEG measurements. “Me neither”, says another student, who previously took part in a study that involved her wearing an EEG cap as a test subject. This involved covering her scalp with gel to allow the electrodes to conduct the signal. “And I’m not doing that ever again. I kept finding gel residue in my hair – even after a week.”

Lecture: Electrophysiology (Thursday 10.00 in the Mandeville building, Erasmus Behavioural Lab on the 12th floor)

Lecturer: Kristel de Groot coordinates the course, but shares the responsibility of supervising groups of students with Sharon Singh, Christiaan Tieman and Muhammet Sahan.

Subject: How to measure brain activity using EEG.

Audience: A total of thirty Master’s students in Biological & Cognitive Psychology and Clinical Research Psychology. Most of them arrive on time – but for some, punctuality is an issue.

Reason to attend the lecture: You get to ‘play’ with real EEG equipment. Or you get to chill out and take on the role of test subject: kick back in the examination chair and get your fellow students to get you coffee. Downside: once you’re hooked up to the electrodes, you can’t use the loo for the rest of the session.

Recording EEG independently

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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

“Good morning!” Lecturer Kristel de Groot welcomes her students and briefly explains that the aim of today’s practical is to teach them how to independently perform EEG research. “You will likely need EEG in your future research, so it’s important that you are able to do it correctly and with precision”, she says. De Groot then divides the students into smaller groups. Students Andrea and Yentl accompany her to lab 4. The group also includes student Yoeri, who is as yet nowhere to be seen.

De Groot opens the door to the lab and rolls her wheelchair back to let the students in: the hallway is too narrow to enter three abreast. The white lab reveals a black examination chair positioned at a computer.

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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

“Do either of you know what these are?”, says the lecturer, pointing at two devices on a table behind the chair. “I think that’s an AD converter and this is the battery”, Yentl replies. “That’s right”, says De Groot.

32 electrodes lie beside the two devices – small, round metal discs attached to thin wires that are plugged into the cap during EEG research and which record the brain waves. The AD converter transforms the data and transmits it to the computer in the adjacent room. Just when the lecturer is about the explain how the devices work, Yoeri walks in. “Sorry I’m late”, he says.

Guinea pig

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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

After an in-depth explanation, it’s time to get the test subject ready. Yentl and Andrea give each other an apprehensive look. “No worries – I’ll do it!”, Yoeri says without even hesitating. He sits in the chair while Yentl and Andrea fit him with the correct size cap.

“When you’re working with electrodes, make sure to always grasp them at the body, and not the wire, because the wires will break if you apply too much pressure”, the lecturer explains.

“Oh, I always thought that the discs were so fragile that you shouldn’t touch them”, Andrea says.

De Groot: “Sure – they might look fragile, but the electrodes are actually well protected within a plastic casing, so they’re safe.”

The two students divide the work between them. Yentl sticks the electrodes to the left side of Yoeri’s head while Andrea takes care of the right side. First they apply gel to the scalp through the small holes in the cap. The gel is needed to properly conduct the brain activity.

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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

“Geez, you’ve got so much hair!”, Andrea laughs when she tries to apply the gel to Yoeri’s scalp using the tip of the blunt syringe. “It helps if you wiggle the syringe around a bit”, De Groot explains.

“I can’t feel any gel on my head… Okay, now I do!”, says Yoeri. Some gel oozes out of the cap on Yentl’s side. “Oops – sorry! I’ve overdone it with the gel! ”, she says, laughing.

“Don’t worry, we have tissues here for a reason”, De Groot says, passing her some paper towels. “It’ll be fine, you’ll be able to practice with the rest of the electrodes.”


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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

Lieke, another student, is the test subject in the next lab. “Apparently you can put quite a lot of pressure on a person’s face”, she says, laughing. “Because I didn’t feel any pain at all when my fellow students were sticking electrodes to my face.” Her classmate Sara says she thought the practical was fantastic. “I’ve always been interested in how the brain works”, she says. “We were taught the theory beforehand, but now that I’ve done it myself, I really get how measuring brain waves works.”

Meanwhile, Yoeri, Yentl and Andrea have completed the first round of the practical. “I’ve really learned a lot”, says Andrea. “Kristel explained everything really well. She’s also very patient and took us through it all step by step. Anytime we made a mistake or had any questions, she’d explain it all again.”

Sara and Lieke agree. “Kristel is one of the best lecturers we have. She’s really easy to talk to. As a student, you can always turn to her and ask her anything”, says Lieke. “I’ve really learned a lot during her lectures.”

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Editor Feba Sukmana and illustrator Pauline Wiersema follow a college every month. Together, they describe and depict how teaching is done, what happens in the lecture hall and what students think of the lecture.

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