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by William McMullen, BIOPAC Systems, Inc.

Integrating new hardware and software into the Physiology lab curriculum can be intimidating. Despite the best of early-summer intentions, in fall Instructors often find themselves apprehensively staring at a box full of unfamiliar equipment a few short days before the first lab. Luckily, the Biopac Student Lab excels in this situation, as it is easy to use and includes all materials necessary for students to prepare, record and analyze their data. This means that, in a crunch, if all one did was install the software and verify the hardware connections, most students should obtain meaningful data. Beyond the default setup, there are multiple customization options as described in the user support documentation. There are, however, some key points we have learned from instructors who have created successful labs that will greatly increase the chances of a rewarding lab experience for both students and instructor.

1. Organize the lab such that each student participates equally and each obtains recorded data from their bodies.
Students are more motivated when working with their own data. The Biopac Student Lab requires a minimum of three students for most lessons; a Recorder, a Director and a Subject. At the end of each lesson recordings, the students should rotate through these rolls and rerun the lesson until each student has recorded their own data. In order to provide enough recording time in a standard 2 hour lab period, the number of students per lab station should be four to five.

2. Setup basic Lesson Preferences before the first lab to minimize confusion.
Run each lesson* that will be used and setup the following:

  • If using lessons L02, L07-L09 or L12-L17, different models of transducers may be used. Check that the image and transducer descriptions in the lesson guide match the hardware used. If changes are needed, choose File > Lesson Preferences and select the desired transducer.
  • Disable undesired recording tasks by choosing File > Lesson Preferences > Lessons Recordings. If none of the recording tasks are desired (if using a custom procedure), disable all and only generic information will be displayed in the lesson guide.

*Note: If using the optional Curriculum Management System (available in BSL 4.1), only changes to the Host computer are required and all other computer/lab stations will be automatically updated. If not using this option, the changes must be made to each computer.

3. For Lessons L12 and L13 (Pulmonary Function), greatly reduce calibration time by matching the hardware with the software.
Label the lab station computer, the MP device and the Airflow Transducer (SS11LA/L) and make sure they are always matched. Run lesson 12 and check File > Preferences > Calibration Syringe Size to make sure it matches the syringe that will be used. Choose File > Preferences > Calibration Syringe Values and then select “Set once and use stored values”. Carefully run through the calibration using the syringe. From then on, when the students run the lesson, they will only need to calibrate for zero baseline (no syringe) which is easy and only takes a few seconds.

4. Students should have a basic understanding of the software before the first lab.
All Biopac Student Lab lessons use the same basic software tools and if students have a basic understanding of these tools in advance, they will experience greater success obtaining good data and having a positive lab experience. Students should be instructed to download the free Biopac Analysis software onto their personal computers.

This software not only provides the ability to analyze the data recorded in the lab but also allows students to prepare for a lab by studying the included tutorial videos and sample data. Some instructors give a test prior to the first lab to make sure students reviewed the BSL Tutorial Video.

5. Demonstrate proper electrode preparation and explain ways to minimize motion artifact. 
For lessons that use electrodes, good electrode contact and minimal EMG/motion artifact are keys to obtaining good data. Although this is explained in the procedures, it cannot be emphasized enough. Demonstrate the cleaning of the skin (with soap or alcohol) to remove dirt and oil and the abrading around the electrode site to remove the dead epidermal layers that impede electrical flow. Always place a drop of electrode gel on the electrode and wait at least 5 minutes after electrode placement before beginning a recording. To minimize EMG artifact, the student should be as relaxed and motionless as possible (unless procedure calls for movement). Talking, blinking (during EEG or EOG recording), laughing or deep breathing will add unwanted EMG artifact to the data.

These easily implemented steps will greatly assist students in obtaining good data from the very first lesson, leading to a positive lab experience and ultimately gaining a better understanding of Physiology.


BIOPAC Systems, Inc. provides life science researchers and educators with data acquisition and analysis systems that inspire people and enable greater discovery about life. BIOPAC lets you measure physiology anywhere, with innovative, compatible wireless, wearable solutions that can be used by anyone for meaningful discovery. We make high-quality scientific tools for physiology measurement and interpretation with superior compatibility and world-class customer service and support. Visit us at

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