In the past few weeks, my lab partner and I have worked together to develop an operant chamber in which touch sensors from the mouse’s tongue activate a motor to deliver water through the same spout. We will use this apparatus to study the effects of stress on risk-taking behaviors and how the nucleus accumbens encodes information about risk in mice. One sensor when activated will dispense a moderate amount of sucrose water 100% of the time, while the other sensor will dispense a small amount for 75% of the time and a large amount 25%. A preference for this latter spout would mean that the mouse is willing to risk receiving a small amount if that means they can receive a large amount every once in awhile. A preference for the former spout would mean the mouse prefers to “play it safe.”
The operant set-up required me to test my knowledge of circuitry and electricity, solve engineering problems and create a functional script. Though challenging, this task called for patience, creativity, and determinism - ultimately, the final product was rewarding. We plan on using this operant chamber to test how the subjects’ risky behavior alters after restraint. Subjects will be water deprived overnight, then allowed three trials of 20 minutes each in the operant box, recording the number of times the subject drank from either spout. This experiment will be repeated but this time the subjects will be physically restrained for 10 minutes prior to entering the chamber. We hope to see that the subjects show more risky behavior after stress and that males and females differ - this experiment can provide insight into how stress or depression can lead to increased/decreased risky behavior.
I have also been working on consolidating and representing all my work from this summer on a poster - my project focused on developing a method for recording neural activity during chronic restraint stress - as part of the Barnard Summer Research Institute. My mentor has helped me enhance my scientific writing skills and taught me new writing tips and methods that I had not learned in my formal lab classes. Meanwhile, the PI of the lab has begun an undergraduate journal club in which we meet weekly to discuss published papers written by or related to our studies; this has definitely broadened my knowledge in the field and is a wonderful way to bond with the team.
I am preparing for the poster session, this upcoming Friday; I am looking forward to share with my fellow peers and my family what I have accomplished this summer. One challenging aspect of this presentation will be that I will have to practice explaining scientific concepts in layman's terms, a perfect test of my teaching abilities. I hope to end this internship on a positive note for the summer - I would like to continue working during the school year for not only research credit, but also, because I am interested in seeing how this experiment will turn out. In addition, I also would like to develop my own project idea.