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NYIT Grant Recipients to Study Illusions and Brain Activity

Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 by for Awards, Media, Miscellaneous.

Juniors Hailey Lau, Ashley Castillo-Mendez, and Batool Kamal analyze brainwaves using an EEG headband. Photo: Susan Louey

Midwood's young scientists brought home not one, but two New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) mini-research grants this year. The two teams of juniors were awarded $300 each to offset the costs of materials needed to pursue their experiments.

Juniors in the science research class submitted proposals to Mr. Glenn Elert to be considered for the application process. They then had to modify their proposals to fit with the guidelines of the grant.

As they worked on their proposals, Mr. Elert and Ms. Stacy Goldstein helped review their applications before they submitted them to a panel of professors from NYIT.

"The funding is meant for students who don't have access to the money to do their project," Ms. Goldstein said. "You have to be very clear on what your project is about and the materials you need."

Mr. Elert stressed the importance of intrinsic motivation. "You have to be someone who wants to sit down and do something that's going to take you a whole year to do," he said.

The grantees this year are pursuing research experiments on illusions and hyper scanning.

Juniors Diana Chen Feng and Jennifer Fan are studying the rubber hand illusion, which is focused on perceptual changes caused by thermal stimulation. In a larger context, they hope that their results will confirm previous studies on the effectiveness of constraint-induced therapy for paresis, which is partial paralysis caused by nerve damage or disease.

"Our mentor, Dr. Shimon Edelman from Cornell University, helped guide us through our project by explaining any details that we did not understand in the research paper," Fan said. "We would set up Zoom meetings once a month to catch him up on how we were doing in our experiment and ask him questions about the procedure."

Using the grant, the duo has purchased facial massager hammers and rubber hands to replicate the rubber hand illusion on a smaller scale.

"When I found out we were one of the recipients of the grant, I was ecstatic and shocked," Feng said.

Feng and Fan sought out ways to repeat the original experiment with more affordable technology.

"We were originally going to buy a TSD191 Thermode and a thermal stimulator from Biopac Systems," Feng said. "However, it was way over our budget. That's why we decided to purchase facial massagers instead."

The grantees received $300 checks from the New York Institute of Technology to go towards their research projects.

The second team of grantees received the award for their study on the effect of friendship and emotional synchrony on brain waves. Juniors Hailey Lau, Ashley Castillo-Mendez, and Batool Kamal plan to use EEG devices, which measure electrical activity, in order to evaluate how synchronized the brains of two close friends are.

The goal of their project is to explain why different people become friends and to investigate the emotional correspondence in friendship.

"The hardest part [of the application] was writing the general abstract of our research," Kamal said. "We needed to make it convincing."

Similar to the other grantees, this trio also worked with a mentor who guided them through picking out the right materials and analyzing the data. Their mentor, Dr. Richard Angle from Columbia University, also helped them manage their time and select their pool of students, Castillo-Mendez said.

With the grant, the group was able to purchase a BrainBit EEG headband that allows them to visualize the frequencies of brain waves in reaction to different stimuli such as emotionally provocative videos.

"When I first found out [about the grant], I was pretty exhilarated," Kamal said. "My group and I were stressed at the time over how to fund the EEG and the software, so winning the grant took a lot of weight off our shoulders."

Since mid-April, the team has been searching for pairs of friends to participate in their research study; the amount of students signing up has increased by the day. Students are still welcome to sign up or catch them in action in room A215 during period nine.

These future scientists will continue their experiments throughout the next few months and eventually submit data to various fairs and competitions in hopes of contributing ground-breaking research to advance the field of science worldwide.

Written by Jinyu Xu and Xue Feng Zou (Class of 2024)
This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of Argus.