Blog post #1: Experiments are rarely simple

I thought that I would add my first quick post here to reflect on the physiology experiments currently being conducted in our General Biology Lab B course.

We told students from the outset that we didn’t expect them to produce Nobel Prize level work in Physiology in just two lab sessions.   But that our real goal was for them to have the experience of planning, conducting, analyzing, and communicating an experiment that was all their own.

This last week in lab was busy with the buzz of students doing jumping jacks, drinking coffee, listening to music, all for the sake of science.  I was a subject for two experiments; one that looked at the effect of cold on manual dexterity (I had to hold my arm in ice water for 30 sec.) and one on the effect of spinning (I was spun around in a lab chair 15 times) on a mental task (sorting M&Ms  by color).  I admit that I was lured into the second experiment by the promise of chocolate, but in retrospect, I really should have declined. Call it old age, dehydration, caffeine headache, whatever, but I can tell you that I didn’t feel right for the rest of the day.

Undoubtably for some research groups, this will all feel like a grade school science project.  But for many, I hope that they experienced the real struggle of designing a solid experiment with replication, randomization, and appropriate controls.  The statistical analysis portion of the project always brings up the “it depends” answer to the “which is the right statistical test” question.  Lessons to be learned:  even simplest experiments aren’t simple.



2 thoughts on “Blog post #1: Experiments are rarely simple

  1. No kidding. They actually did write up an IRB proposal, but it is different when all of a sudden you are one of the subjects!