New technology based science instructional laboratory in Connelly 130

By: Dr. Brian Forster

Bio Pac
In August 2012, Connelly 130 was redesigned and deployed as a science laboratory. Students working in this lab will have access to the same technology found in the other Connelly Hall science instructional laboratories. The software program that will be utilized extensively in Connelly 130 this year will be the Bio-Pac (Figs. A & B). Although I have previously mentioned Bio-Pacs, I wish to take this time and describe them in more detail and show how these devices help students in learning about how the human body functions (physiology).

Observations are a key feature to the nature of science. What we observe allows us as scientists to ask and answer questions. The invention of microscopes allowed scientists to open the door to the world of cells and microorganisms. Studying the physiology of an organism, most notably humans, can be difficult since we cannot easily visualize all the events occurring inside the body. The actions of the human body produce electricity. Different activities produce unique electrical signals. Bio-Pac uses special electrodes that can be connected to the body to detect these signals. These signals are transferred from the electrodes to a MP3X acquisition unit (Fig. A). The MP3X processes these signals and carries that information to the Bio-Pac Student Lab software that is installed on the computers in the Connelly Hall science instructional laboratories. According to the manufacturer, it takes 1/1000 of a second for a signal to be received and displayed on the computer (Bio-Pac Student Lab manual). The Bio-Pac software allows the student to not just visualize the signals, but allows the student to analyze the data and make specific measurements.

The electrical activity that the Bio-Pac system measures allows our students to visualize skeletal muscle activity (electromyography), brain activity (electroencephalography), heart activity (electrocardiography) (Fig. B) and eye activity (electroculogram). Other aspects of human physiology the Bio-Pac system can measure include blood pressure, respiration and the human body’s response to relaxing and stressful conditions. Given the proper electrodes, numerous aspects of human physiology can be explored. There is even a prepared lab on using the Bio-Pac as a polygraph machine! Students can see firsthand what happens physiologically when someone tells their professor that the dog ate the assignment! Currently, the biology lab courses that use Bio-Pacs include Bio 165 (Exploring the Living World), Bio 201 (Bio III: Organismic Biology), Bio 260/261 (Anatomy and Physiology) and Bio 417 (Systemic Physiology).

Since several of our students are pre-health students, they also gain practice in using more common equipment to look at human physiology. Stethoscopes and sphygmomanometers (blood pressure cuffs) are provided for students to measure heart rate and blood pressure, respectively without the aid of the computer. The students are then provided the opportunity to compare their own measurements to the measurements calculated by Bio-Pac.

To learn more about the Connelly Hall science instructional laboratories and their technology, please contact Dr. Brian Forster (bforster@sju.edu).