We Began with User Studies

The first user study was designed to encourage the computer scientists involved in the project, to communicate with the neuroscientists, and hence to establish a general understanding of the neuroscience research process. We began by conducting a Mosaic-based user study to identify the tasks involved in neuroscience research. The participants included the members of the PI's lab. Since the study broadly included research by experimenters as well as modellers, participants were asked to respond to questions that related to their areas of expertise. Approximately 120 responses, on the various topics outlined in the survey, were recorded. The exact number of participants could not be determined because users typically chose to submit responses anonymously (a link to the survey is provided, although the survey has been deactivated). A summary of findings from each of the major menu categories can also be accessed.

Information from this study was used by the computer scientists to understand general aspects about experimental and computational neurobiology. From this we realized that in order for the GENESIS-based database to significantly contribute to the process of neurobiological research as a whole, it must provide a means to support all phases of the research (journal research, experimentation, simulation, data maintenance, notetaking, data analysis, paper writing). This perspective exceeds previous notions of what databases should be.

Armed with a general understanding of Neurobiology, the Computer Scientists then sought to understand the specifics about the field. For example, it was clear from the first study that successful GENESIS models were parameterized by experimental data. But experimental data came from a variety of sources: voltage clamp experiments, extra-cellular recordings, micromapping experiments, etc. Unifying these various forms of data would be a non-trivial problem in database schema design. As a first step the principal computer scientist had to spend a considerable amount of time learning the fundamentals of neuroscience as well as observing a number of experiments in the PI's lab.

This eventually led to a video-taped brainstorm session involving both the principal computer scientist and a number of neurobiologists to design the capabilities of the database interface.

We designed the interface

We Built a Data Acquisition Prototype

We Identified a Suitable Data Model

Concluding Remarks

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