College of Liberal Arts

Share Neuroscientist Takes the Quantified Self, and Own Brain, to the Next Level

Posted: June 6, 2013

Early this Tuesday morning, and every Tuesday morning through November 2013, neuroscientist Russell Poldrack will wake up, take off his headband-like sleep monitor, and tell it to wirelessly send data about his night’s sleep to a database.

Then he’ll log in to a survey app on his computer, and provide a subjective report on how well he slept, whether he’s sore, and what his blood pressure and pulse rate are. He’ll step on a scale, which will send his weight and body mass index to another database. Then he’ll skip his usual paleo-style breakfast and head to his office on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin, where he’s a professor of neuroscience and psychology and the director of the Imaging Research Center (IRC).

Poldrack has been following this routine every Tuesday since the fall of 2012. It’s part of his year-long quest to study a single human brain (his own, as it happens) in more detail than a single brain has ever been studied before.

At 7:30 a.m. every Tuesday, he’ll head down to the basement of the building and lie down for ten minutes, thinking about nothing in particular, while his brain is scanned by the IRC’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Immediately after the scan he’ll fill out more surveys.

When that’s done he’ll walk over to the student health center, have some blood drawn, and drop that blood sample off at the university’s genome sequencing facility. The scientists there will analyze the blood for evidence of which of Poldrack’s genes were expressed that day.

If he exercises, he’ll wear a heart monitor. The data will go into a database. On other days of the week, he may also submit to a high-resolution structural MRI, or perhaps work with his neuroscience colleague Alex Huk to perform high-resolution scans that can identify specific regions of his visual cortex.

That evening Poldrack will do more surveys and reports. He’ll note, among other things, how much time he spent outdoors, the severity of his psoriasis during the day, how much alcohol he drank, what he ate, how stressed he was, how good his gut health was, and how his mood fluctuated over the course of the day. Then he’ll strap his sleep monitor back on and go to bed.

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