Neuroscience Research: How Has It Evolved?

Nervous system

(DGIwire) – The tools used by neuroscientists for experimental research are constantly evolving. Consider, for example, the famous piece of lab equipment known as the operant conditioning box. It has long been used as a way to measure the response of lab animals to various types of stimuli. Over the past few decades, innovation has transformed how it works and what scientists can learn from it—and innovation continues today. A recent article in Laboratory Equipment magazine, written by an application scientist in neuroscience at Harvard Bioscience, profiled how this technology has evolved, decade by decade.

  • The 1960s: In B.F. Skinner’s early 1940s experiments, animal behavior was manually “shaped” so the animal learned to press a level and get food. Starting in the 1960s, however, using electrical bridges, different devices—e.g. timers and schedule selectors—were combined for more sophisticated control.
  • The 1970s: With the advent of semiconductors, relays were replaced by solid-state transistors, and operant boxes were equipped with codified data outputs to enable their connection to microcomputers for data acquisition purposes. This allowed for higher-resolution recording. 
  • The 1980s: With the arrival of plug-in input-output (I/O) boards and specific interface units, computer-associated software was able to control several experimental chambers at once, leading to the decline of programmable units.
  • The 2000s: The development of plug-and-play technologies has simplified the connection between operant boxes and computers, with I/O boards replaced by interface devices that directly connect to a computer via a USB port.
  • 2010 and beyond: In the future, suggests the Laboratory Equipment article, all data acquisition and transfer may be performed remotely, completely removing the need for even a single cable. In addition, the evolution of software technologies may provide a higher level of flexibility and user-friendliness.

“Sophisticated new technologies—leading to innovations in both in hardware and software—continue to revolutionize the workings of operant boxes and other types of equipment in neuroscience,” says Jeff Duchemin, President and CEO of Harvard Bioscience. “These are expanding how researchers interact with animals in the lab as well as the potential findings that can result from these types of studies.”

Holliston, MA-based Harvard Bioscience offers the highest-quality tools and equipment for university, government and other research laboratories, including those doing research with potential applications to neuroscience. Its product range is extensive, from molecular analysis instruments to electrophysiology tools. The company’s subsidiaries offer a complete line of instrumentation in multiple sectors including laboratory fluidics, molecular analysis, cell physiology and animal physiology.

“Technologies are continuing to make staggering leaps, and capitalizing on new solutions that would adjust to these rapid advances will be fundamental to address the changing nature of neuroscience research,” adds Duchemin

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