The wiring of DIN plugs

I get to do all sorts of practical stuff at work, some of which has nothing to do with physiology or imaging. One such thing is producing custom-made cables and plugs. Since I’ve had the pleasure of doing a fair few of these recently, I thought I’d put up a short how-to blog post on wiring up a DIN connector.

DIN stands for Deutsches Institut fur Normung, which translates to the German Institute for Standardisation. A DIN connector is, in short, a standardized connector, which come in a similar size. You may have seen them as they are often used for analog audio. The male DIN plug is typically 13.2 mm in diameter, and it often has a notch at the bottom to make sure the plug goes in the right way. Male plugs have a set of round pins, 1.45mm in diameter, that are equally spaced within the plug. The different types of DIN plugs have different numbers and configurations of pins. Below is an overview of some typical pin configurations.

dinplugs

There are, of course, variations over these themes, as well as specialized plugs with more than 10 pins. Pins on male connectors are numbered. The numbering goes from right to left, viewed from the outside of the connector with the pins upward and facing the viewer. The female counterparts are the inverse of the male plugs, and their numbering is from left to right. Usually, only corresponding male-female pairs work together, but you may be able to fit a 3-pin plug with a 5-pin 180 degree plug.

So how to attach a DIN plug to a cable? 

  1. Take the cable and snip off a few centimetres of plastic and remove padding. Snip off the insulation (about 1 cm) of the individual internal cables (cores). Slide the DIN metal sheet over the wire.
  2. Make sure that each core fits neatly into holes of DIN plug. This might mean cutting some of the wires. Move the unisolated wires (the ground) to one side.
    1
  3.  Solder the core wires together and test that they still fit the holes in the plug.
  4. (Now comes the fiddly part). Add solder tin (a small amount is best) to the DIN plug holes, heat with the solder and push the tinned cores into holes. Remove solder iron and let the tin solidify (a few seconds only). Test that the solder holds by pulling firmly on the plug and cores. Attach the metal clamp around the cores (see second of figures below).
    3
  5. Wrap the ground wires around the base of the metal clamp. Make sure the ground does NOT touch the cores. Test that there is no connection between wires and between wires and ground using a multimeter. Slide the metal sheet over the structure and plastic, and screw on the release catch where this overlays hole on metal clamp.
    4

Done.

Advertisements

Reblog: The dreaded Q/A session

The Q/A session can be a daunting prospect, not only for the presenter but also for the audience members. Many of us have been in the position of having a question after a talk, but not quite daring to voice it. In a blog post over at The Female Scientist, immunologist Viki Male, suggests 7 steps to overcoming the fear of the Q/A and instead learn to use it to engage with the community and further your career goals. The post has some really good points – my favourite being “Let go of the idea that you have to ask “clever” questions. The most successful questions are usually the genuine ones.” It is worth a read.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Q&A Sessions!

The gender gap in asking questions is problematic because doing so is good for your career. Here are some tips on how to overcome your nerves and to get involved in Q&A sessions!

The evidence suggests that women ask fewer questions than men at conferences. It’s possible – indeed likely – that some of this effect can be accounted for by women being called on less often by the chair. But at least part of the problem is lacking the confidence to ask questions in front of an audience, and this seems to affect women more than men.

The gender gap in asking questions is problematic because doing so is good for your career. If you ask questions in departmental seminars, you will be noticed as an engaged scientist and good departmental citizen. This will be mentioned to your potential future employers and collaborators. When going up for internal awards, your engagement – or lack of it – will be noted and does influence your chance of success.

 

My top 7 science-themed comics

There are quite a few science-themed online comics out there, many of which are excellent. I thought I would share my favourites here, many of which are comics that have followed me for years, from the early days of PhD research, thesis writing, paper writing, paper rejection, job hunting, job rejection, late days in the lab, early days in the pub, new jobs, old jobs, new gross fluids, old gross fluids, data that doesn’t make sense and data that makes even less sense – in short, all the crazy of science.

In no particular order:

XKCD (https://xkcd.com/). XKCD is a comic about math, sarcasm, romance and language. I have seen perhaps a smidge more sarcasm than romance, but this may just be my interpretation. Nevertheless, XKCD is fantastic. It is written by a physics graduate and manages to be both funny and educational (for us non-physics people) at the same time. (It offers explanations: http://www.explainxkcd.com!)

sky_color

Red Pen/Black Pen (https://redpenblackpen.tumblr.com/). Home of the oft-shared peer-review car illustration, Red Pen/Black Pen takes a slightly cynical view on the world of academia and has a hint of a computational biology angle. Also on Twitter as @redpenblackpen.

car_peer_review_comic_12

The Awkward Yeti (http://theawkwardyeti.com/). Features the cutest gallbladder in comics. This is a anatomy/medicine-themed comic which follows the eponymous awkward yeti, Lars, and his organs as they deal with social situations, anxiety, bodily functions and bodily malfunctions. There is even a spinoff, called Heart and Brain.

gall-bladder

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (https://www.smbc-comics.com/). SMBC is a quirky and occasionally sciency comic, covering anything from religion to economics to astronomy in daily, stand-alone strips. Its vast archive is enough to lose all productivity for at least a week.

zimbardo

The Upturned Microscope (https://theupturnedmicroscope.com). Written by a cell biology PhD, hence rife with funny lab mishaps and a good dose of cynicism. For someone who is not used to working in a white coat, the Upturned Microscope is a great view into a world of reagents gone wrong.

scihub

Piled Higher and Deeper (http://phdcomics.com/comics.php). Also called PhD comics (geddit?), as it revolves around the ups and downs and potential free food of graduate life, with a few post doc experiences thrown in for good measure. This is the place to go if you are struggling with the thesis and want to know that you’re not alone.

comic1_phd

Bird and Moon (http://www.birdandmoon.com/). I have not read as much Bird and Moon as I would like, having only come to it in the past year. It is a beautifully drawn comic by Rosemary Mosco, a field naturalist, that centers on the weird and wonderful aspects of nature and wildlife.

1

(UPDATE: here is a recently published paper on drawing science comics, titled
“Ten simple rules for drawing scientific comics” by Jason McDermott (Red Pen/Black Pen), Matthew Partridge (Errant Science) and Yana Bromberg:  http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005845)

Reblog: Electrical shavers and splashed saline

One morning, your friend and you go to a café and get two identical coffees. Without telling you, a barista gives you a regular coffee and your friend gets a decaf. This means you are blinded to whether your drink contains caffeine or not.

I recently had the pleasure of being asked to give feedback on a blog post on blinding in clinical trials, and how this can be done if the trial involves surgery. It was a really interesting read, highlighting how creative you have to get to conceal real versus fake surgical interventions.

For anyone interested, the full post has just been released here.

For anyone very interested, the review paper that the blog post was based upon is here.

 

Academic spam bingo

I have had a particularly generous season of conference-spam, journal-spam and laboratory-salespitches-spam this autumn. My current spam folder contains gems such as:

  • “academicians”
  • “You can attend this event from your comfort zone.”
  • “I have contacted you regarding your precious manuscript submission”
  • “We have gone through one of your publications which contains valuable information that guides the future research allies.”
  • “We believe that our journal will get a very good reputation in scientific community with your valuable submission. “
  • “This journal would offer you an enriching experience and achieve great successful endeavors”
  • “A galaxy of 500+ International experts from 40+ countries will be there to share their knowledge and wisdom”

So here it is: academic spam bingo

bingo

Appreciation post: ‘junk’ labs

This is a simple appreciation post for junk labs in general and my junk lab in particular. A junk lab arises organically from research that regularly requires new, bespoke equipment with limited funding and a reasonable amount of technical know-how. If this new stuff is built from old stuff, that’s usually easiest. So it’s a lab with a cache of old bits and bobs, scavenged and re-purposed, amended and adjusted. And it looks like this.

 

Smoking in the scanner?

There is a new paper out in Scientific Reports, titled “Investigating the neural correlates of smoking: Feasibility and results of combining electronic cigarettes with fMRI”. This is a study that have managed to combine actual smoking with functional MRI (fMRI).

Most studies looking at brain processing of smoking run into trouble with MRI. This is because smoking and scanning do not go well together. Hospitals don’t allow smoking, things should generally not be on fire in the MRI scanner, and ventilation is an issue when you’re lying in a narrow bore. Because of this, we haven’t been able to properly look at the sensations and behaviour of smoking alongside the effects of nicotine (and other active products in cigarette smoke). This study tries to get around these practical problems and also look at the brain response to real-time smoking.

For the practical part, the study used e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes solve some of the problems with smoking in the scanner (fire and ventilation to some extent), but can cause image artifacts and may also contain metal. The paper shows how smaller types of e-cigarettes did not cause image artifacts plus were safe to use in the scanner from a metal point of view. E-cigarette smoking is a good mimic for traditional smoking, so this is a workable model of ‘the real thing’ that fits with MRI.

In terms of brain responses, the authors found activation in several brain regions associated with smoking e-cigarettes. These regions included motor cortex, insula, cingulate, amygdala, putamen, thalamus, globus pallidus and cerebellum. There were also (relative) deactivations in the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex associated with smoking.

wall_paper

Image from the paper showing brain responses when participants were instructed to smoke. Red-yellow is activation and blue is deactivation.

Some of this activation is (unsurprisingly) linked to movement. The motor cortex activation (stronger on the left hand side, which correspond to right-hand side motion) is most likely due to movements associated with smoking. Similarly, cerebellar activation is often related to motion. Other regions are associated more with the effects of smoking. The putamen is part of a brain region called the striatum, which plays a role in reward and in supporting addiction. The ventral striatum (and orbitofrontal cortex) are associated with drug craving.

From a personal point of view, having worked a great deal with breathing, I am excited that the paper showed activation in the insula and cingulate. Both are structures involved in breathing and breathlessness tasks. However, without behavioural measures to link the findings to, it is hard to say what this activation means in this setting. It is important to remember that just because a similar activation pattern occurs with two different tasks, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the activation means the same. Each region of the brain typically handle more than one thing, particularly cortical regions.

The authors also found that activation patterns was similar both if the participants were told when to smoke and when to stop (first scan), and if they could smoke at will (second scan). However, in the second scan, the activation was weaker. The authors suggest that this could be because this task was more variable, meaning more between-subject variance and poorer timing (from a fMRI point of view). It could also be an order effect, as the subjects had more nicotine in their system in the second scan. This fits with lower activation in reward-related brain regions in the second scan. Or it could simply be because to smoke on command or whenever one wants to are different situations. Again, it is hard to tell why without other measures.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting paper, both from a methods point of view and for those interested in smoking processing and effects on the brain. It’s also written in a nice and easily accessible way. I’d recommend looking it up:

Reference: Matthew B. Wall, Alexander Mentink, Georgina Lyons, Oliwia S. Kowalczyk, Lysia Demetriou & Rexford D. Newbould. Investigating the neural correlates of smoking: Feasibility and results of combining electronic cigarettes with fMRI. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 11352 (2017)
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-11872-z
Website: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-11872-z 

Art+Science

I have been thinking about art lately. The University of Sheffield’s annual Festival of Academic Writing is coming up and I have just finished reviewing a few papers and grant applications. Mostly, this has made me consider how scientists can suffocate enthusiasm for even the most exciting finding in a single passive paragraph (never mind a whole string of them), and I may do a post about the horrors of the ‘academese’ language at a later stage. However, as the planning for next year’s Festival of the Mind is also underway, I wanted to write about something more positive: how art and science can work together.

Science and art to me are two sides of the same coin. Both aim to understand and describe the world, each in their own way. Science is the more objective of the two, but the way we gather and interpret data is without doubt influenced by our assumptions and world view. Art, on the other hand, challenges these assumptions, offers new ways of looking at the world. In short, science can answer our questions, but art may just help us ask the right ones. We need both to progress.

I  have a great deal of time for art barging into the halls of data and analysis (or for that matter, science picking up the brushes and the paint). Either way, it is a bold move, and the results could be equally impressive. As a prime example on how art and science can work together, watch this video by Jan Fröjdman, who has painstakingly pieced together still images of Mars (from the HiRISE camera) to generate a representation of a ‘live’ flight over the red planet. It is an absolutely stunning interpretation of data.

A FICTIVE FLIGHT ABOVE REAL MARS by Jan Fröjdman (see Vimeo for image credit).

Sheffield has a thriving art scene, and one that is not frightened of interacting with the sciences. The before-mentioned annual Festival of Academic Writing lets academics write creative pieces for the Journal of Imaginary Research and poke fun at the near-obligatory passive voice to their little hearts’ content. I very much enjoyed taking part last year and have just signed up for the upcoming November workshop. There are plenty of art installations throughout both the year and the city that communicate hot-off-the-press research to the public alongside more traditional science outreach events. The winter gardens is a frequently used venue and a good place to go for a bit of lateral thinking. There are artists who specialise in the communication of science and medicine, for example through the live-drawing of conferences, and who manage to reduce complex concepts to easily-interpreted visuals. And how about the live art-rock soundtrack to footage from the Hubble Telescope (plus three Georges Méliès films for good measure)? These are excellent ways of communicating science, as well as perhaps offering up new ways of looking at old questions.

Above are examples of Sheffield’s Art+Science scene (all images reproduced with permission). At the top left, there is Luke Jerram’s giant inflatable E. Coli hovering in the Winter Gardens, which surely had the potential to inspire both budding microbiologists and nightmares during KrebsFest 2015. Top right is artist Kate Sully‘s excellent work for The Journey of Reproductive Life from the University of Sheffield’s 2016 Festival of the Mind. The 2018 Festival is already being planned, with the involvement of animators, musicians, visual and digital artists, dancers and performers. Below Sully’s art is the cover of the Journal of Imaginary Research, vol 2 (2017), with work on volume 3 starting in November 2017 for publication in early 2018. Bottom left is a beautiful representation of signal in the ovary created by Isam Sharum, Felicity Tournant and Sofia Granados-Aparici (Ovary Research Group, 2015) – one of several pieces of science-inspired art within the University of Sheffield and one which I get to admire every morning.

Art has a lot to offer the sciences. Of course, if one want to take the mercenary view, a collaboration with the arts would probably fit the parameters for an impact case for the Research Excellence Framework. But aside from the REF, art can be used to communicate science, to inspire curiosity, to guide our questions and to make a whole generation dream of jet packs and rocket ships.

 

Reblog: “We need to stop calling professional development a “pipeline”

Excellent post by Small Pond Science on why ‘pipeline’ is a problematic metaphor for the scientific career path.

When we talk about increasing the representation of women and ethnic minorities in STEM, the path towards a professional career is often characterized as a “pipeline.” The pipeline metaphor is so entrenched, it affects how people think about our deep-rooted problems. This metaphor has become counterproductive, because it fails to capture the nature of the […]

read the rest of We need to stop calling professional development a “pipeline” at Small Pond Science

Reblog: “Collaboration – seek and ye shall find?”

Collaborators are highly valuable for a researcher. For many of us in experimental fields, they are the only way to get enough data to fulfil the publication demands each year (a requirement that warrants a separate, full blog post in its own right). But how does one get good collaborators? The Think Ahead blog has a good piece on collaboration, highlighting how it often depends on initial, open communication, perhaps outside of one’s comfort zone. How much time do you spend talking to someone not in your group, maybe not even in your field? The post is worth a read.

Often collaboration isn’t about having a research idea and then looking for collaborators but rather it can be by talking to others that ideas for collaboration come about.

Read the rest of Collaboration – seek and ye shall find? at the Think Ahead Blog