Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to drop a line and wish to thank everyone that has contributed comments and kept up with the progress with fNIRS. 

BTW, I’ll be spending New Years Day out in Amherst, Ohio launching high power rockets!  Watch out for parachutes and very tall columns of smoke if you’re out that way!

Stay safe while traveling and have a great holiday, new years and a great ’09!

fNIRS: The First Round


My name’s Maciej Grzegorz Zborowski, though you can call me Mac.  I’ve been asked to blog about my experiences with a fNIRS study going on here at Glenn Research Center and about other experiences at NASA. 

How cool is that?!

First a little about what I do here at NASA: 

I’m an Industrial Designer working here at Glenn (GRC) helping engineers conceptualize projects and programs.  

Now, lets talk fNIRS:

What’s fNIRS (pronounced “ef-nears”)?

  fNIRS stands for Functional Near – Infrared Spectroscopy.  Basically, its a way to see the relationship between oxygen levels and your body’s metabolism.

The goal here is to find a good way to gather data that will help keep pilots aware of while up in the cockpit environment.  Sounds easy, right?! 

The first calibration test was a few days ago and it was exciting and intense.  Angela Harrivel and Terri McKay work on the fNIRS study and they’ve been working on a helmet that holds probes in place against my head.  The probes emit laser light into my brain and detectors (that are also mounted on the helmet) gather the reflections.  Then, a software package records the readings and then Angela and Terri analyze. 

The first tests were basic:

  I was asked to relax.  This consisted of me thinking of floating on station (station = International Space Station).  Then, I was asked to touch my finger tips and my thumb using my dominant hand.  Try that for a minute, pretty cool.  Then, I was asked  to think of words that started with a given letter, ie. b = bravo, blog, brats, bingo, baloo, balloon / z = zebra, zinger, zipper, zap, etc. 

  All in all this calibration test went well.  Angela and Terri got a kind of baseline and now they can start testing using other subjects and introducing flying into the equation! 

How does flying fit in to these tests?  Check back later and I’ll tell you all about the pitch and roll seat we have in the lab!



Baby Shampoo,Ultralights,and Annoying Black Squares

Finally!  The testing has started!  We’re getting data!

Last week, I got to complete a round of testing.  Though this didn’t involve the fNIRS setup (lasers), it did utilize an EEG, or electroencephalography (pronounced with a sneeze).

The EEG that we have involves sensors in little watch battery size capsules that have small electrodes touching the scalp, and they are attached to a hair net – like cap.  The cap is then cinched onto my head.  The senors record electrical impulses that the brain gives off, and transfer that data into a software package on a computer.

To get a good connection between my scalp and the electrodes inside the sensors, Terry used a solution made up of potassium chloride, water, and baby shampoo, you heard right…BABY SHAMPOO.  For the rest of the day, I smelled like a baby!  (…all in the name of science, right?)

The image below is the EEG setup using the pitch – roll seat and a baby shampoo smelling guinea pig…me!


The test was a series of smaller tasks that involved resting, finger tapping, word association, flight of an ultralight aircraft in the simulator, and a response exercise.

Resting was the same as with the fNIRS test from the previous post.  Though, this time instead of thinking of floating on the ISS, I was thinking of cruising in an F104 Starfighter (Kelly Johnson, look him up).



Yes, believe it or not, that is relaxing to me.

Then came the finger tapping test that I completed before, using the fNIRS.

After that, word association.  Again, same as the previous exercise using the fNIRS.

Then came some FUN!  We fired up the simulator and the seat.  I was tasked with flying an ultralight through a series of gates.  This wasn’t that intense of a task considering the simulated ultralight doesn’t need crisp control actions.  It’s what I call “lazy flying.”  Nice and slow flying with subdued control inputs.


There were 3 gates that varied in elevation and required me to increase and decrease power using the throttle.  That was a fun test, primarily because it not only supplied data from a test subject that was flying using the simulator, but also because the gates were located at Edwards Air Force Base! 



Finally, the black box task.  Ughhh, those black squares…

Angela tells me that the task was taken from a series or tests that are used to test cognition as well as other psychological issues.  The task that I’ll be talking about is #3 (TOVA) in the list in the link:
So, I was tasked with a test that recorded my response to a series of black squares that appeared on the screen of pitch – roll seat.  I was to look at the screen and tap the space bar every time a small black square appeared in the top half of a big white square.  I was NOT supposed to tap the space bar when the small black square appeared in the bottom half of the big white square.  Here’s the kicker:  I had to watch for the little, small, blinking, and really annoying black square for 20+ minutes!!  Yes, 20+ minutes…that’s 1200+ seconds, or almost half an hour just watching, waiting, tapping, NOT tapping, CONCENTRATING

I think that this was a better test then all of the others.  I was really forced to concentrate for this task, making sure that I don’t tap the key, that I tap the key.  Sounds simple, right?  Ha!  Don’t forget about your eyes, your muscles, your body.  I was sitting in one position for 20+ minutes looking at one area in my field – of – view, trying not to blink when the squares appeared, and blinking when I just pressed or not pressed the key.  Awesome test, but boy was that ANNOYING.  But nothing gets annoying more than this:  I MISSED ONE!  I pressed the key when I should not have!!  (*..insert sigh here*).

All in all, it was great to get the first official test knocked out.  I hope that Angela can get some good data from all those tasks. 

Below is a pic I took right after the test…remember…I smelled like baby shampoo when i took this pic!  I’d like to thank Angela and Terry for making me look like this for the rest of the day…

                                                             Happy Halloween!  


Lasers Through the Head

So, last Friday was the second official test. 

Terri and I did the usual baseline test, like the finger tapping, the word association, etc. 

The flight portion of the testing (using the pitch and roll seat) was a little different.  Instead of flying a straight line with varying altitudes and power settings, this time coordinated turns appeared!  Not only that, but I had to watch my power setting also (even though I firewalled the throttle for 2 of the 3 flying portions).  I had to navigate through a series of gates that were not only at different altitudes, but also required a different approach or vector. 

Flying in the sim using the pitch and roll seat is fun, but can get a little…slow.  This is due to the fact that we’re tasked with flying an ultralight.  Nothing wrong with ultralights, but…their…SLOW…

….we’re talking MOLASSES IN WINTER SLOW…


…trust me, slow.

But finally we got some data using fNIRS that hopefully closely relates to actual flying.

After flying for 6hrs in the ultralight (just kidding, the course took only about 5min. with full throttle), Terri set me up with a new attention test.  Last time, I had to watch the computer screen for boxes…annoying…boxes (see previous blog entry).  This time, I had to react to a red circle as it appeared on the screen.  By react I mean I had to press a key on a keyboard as soon as I saw a red circle.  This was a basic reaction time test, though I had to really concentrate on the screen.  I probably averaged half a second, though my best was .28 seconds I think.  This was also a prolonged test, I probably lasted for 15min+, but was not that annoying or challenging as the box test.

Overall this round was great and I’m glad there’s a second set of data that we can put against the set that I and the other test subjects completed a few weeks back.

Signing off from NYC, Happy Thanksgiving!

…now where’s that Hayden Planetarium again..?