A fruitful collaboration between KU Leuven and Newcastle University

The Keep Control network is providing opportunities for early stage researchers to collaborate with researchers from other universities. I, Veerle de Rond, am a Keep Control fellow working at the KU Leuven. For a period of 16 weeks, I visited the Brain and Movement (BAM) research group at the University of Newcastle. The main goal of my visit was to work on a study in which fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) would be used to measure brain activity during a postural task under supervision of Dr. Annette Pantall, a research fellow at BAM who published three papers in this domain.

The study was titled: ‘Neural correlates of weight shifting in young and older adults’, and was the first project within my PhD. Young and older participants were asked to perform weight shifts from left to right, in order to shoot virtual wasps within a game projected on a screen in front of them. At the same time, their brain activity was measured with fNIRS, and muscle activity in the lower back was captured by means of EMG (electromyography).

1left: fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) device on the head of a participant
right: Wasp game in which participant had to shoot wasps by shifting weight from left to right
(previously developed by De Vries A. & Verschueren S.)

ITN-networks experience offers these rich experiences to visit another lab. It took me a while to get used to the lab etiquette and equipment, which was different from my home lab in Leuven. When measuring in the lab I had to wear formal clothes, which I think is more common in England than it is in Belgium and The Netherlands. Furthermore, since the lab was set up for this study specifically, we had to build it up from scratch, something I never did before. It made me realize how much time and effort it takes to install all the equipment, and to make sure everything works before actually starting the measurements. I would like to thank Annette, Lisa and Brook for their time and patience in setting up the lab.

During my time in Newcastle, I could practice my English language skills as well. I really had to get used to the Northern accents. Especially older adults with a strong accent were sometimes hard to understand. To be fair, they also struggled with my Dutch accent sometimes. Luckily, two native-speaking students, Leanne and Esther, were helping me during the experiment. They were a great help, for which I would like to thank them.

After collecting, the data had to be analyzed as well. Since, I had never worked with the fNIRS system before, the analysis was completely new to me. Both Annette and Diego, a visiting researcher from the Posture and Locomotion Studies Laboratory (LEPLO; Rio Claro, Brazil), were a big help in this matter.

Besides long days of measuring in the lab, I also took my chances to explore the country, together with Keep Control fellows Andreas (Hasomed), Elke (Kiel), and Rana (Newcastle). When flying home with a full bag of data (17 young adults and 17 older adults), I could look back on a challenging though successful experience in Newcastle!

2Andreas, Rana, Elke and Veerle exploring Newcastle

Many thanks to the excellent help and feedback from Annette, Lisa, Brook and Diego. This study would not have been possible without them.

Written by: Veerle de Rond

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