12 March 2010

Lab equipment love #3

Last equipment post for a while, but by no means least. Finally, something a little bit more high tech than forceps and a microscope.

A 60 cycle noise eliminator, the HumBug.

To understand how marvelous this little box is, I have to explain a little about electrophysiology.

Everything you’re using to read this blog post runs off a powerline. So do lights and other electrical appliances. Those electric powerlines generate noise, or a “hum,” that cycles 60 times a second in North American, and 50 times a second in Australia and, I think, the U.K. This “60 cycle” is picked up by recording electrodes, like those used to record neural activity.

Since biologists are interested in the biology and not power mains, the 60 cycle just gets in the way of seeing the actual biological signal. So eletrophysiologists have to spend huge amounts of time trying to eliminate that 60 cycle noise by grounding, using Faraday cages, tinfoil, alligator clamps, and offerings to minor deities.

Worse, it’s incredibly unpredictable. A set-up that is perfect one day may have horrible 60 cycle the next day.

Thus, anything that helps combat 60 cycle is a beautiful thing. And that is what this clever little device does. I had no idea it existed until I went to the annual Neuroscience meeting the year I was hired, and discovering it alone made the trip worthwhile.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Oh, man, you've just made me homesick! Your posts about forceps and electronics seriously make me miss my electrophysiology rig. I'm not sure I should thank you.