Topic Archives: Group Experiments

QS18 Preview: Map Your Ovulatory Cycle with Continuous Body Temperature

Ovulation Cartoon


Surprisingly little of the attention and funding turned to personalized, predictive, preventative medicine has focused on the female reproductive system: pregnancy onset cannot be quickly identified, menopause onset and trajectory remain entirely mysterious, and adverse reactions to tools like hormonal birth control are difficult to anticipate. Importantly, there are no automated, cheap, high-accuracy methods for predicting ovulation in the diverse population of cycling people. Existing methods are based on once-daily measurement of basal body temperature (BBT). These are prone to sampling error, unreliable for people with irregular ovulatory cycles, and make use of only one minute out of the 1440 available as data points per day. Although some pricey new devices aim to tackle the pitfalls of BBT via more frequent measurement, they mostly hold their analytical techniques as company secrets, making their estimations difficult to understand or trust.

So, if you are trying to get pregnant, trying to not get pregnant, or trying to understand anything else specific associated with your cycle, maybe you share my more general question: What can we learn about ourselves from continuously tracking body temperature across the cycle?

As part of my graduate research, and in collaboration with the Quantified Self community, I’m organizing a “participatory research project” on ovulatory cycling. To capture the uniqueness in individuals’ cycles, and to work towards predicting features of interest, we’ll measure continuous skin temperature, as well as luteinizing hormone (LH) and a range of other metrics. From my prior research, I’ve seen that mammals (including humans) have distinctive patterns of body temperature around ovulation, but that there are wide individual differences in the way temperature changes across the cycle. It’s my goal to characterize both the uniqueness of individuals and the common patterns preceding ovulation. I will of course release the analytical tools I build open-source. In this project, I’ll be requesting permission to work towards publishing results containing de-identified data from participants, but keep in mind that data sharing is completely optional; you’re still invited to join if you want to keep your data completely private.

We recently tested the plausibility of this style of participatory research in a year-long project exploring blood cholesterol variability. Thanks to research support from Amgen, participants had access to testing instruments that allowed them to measure their own cholesterol. We measured our blood cholesterol as often as hourly, and met every week or two to discuss our projects. We showed the work at QSPH 18, participants made a range of personal discoveries, and we generated two manuscripts, currently in review, to report our results.

If you think you might be interested in participating, we’re going to have a breakout discussion at QS18 called “Map Your Ovulatory Cycle With Continuous Body Temperature”. There, we’ll outline the proposed structure of the project and get a sense of what questions would be most interesting to ask with this data. I’d like to see if we can identify ovulation and menses onset, but there are many other possible topics. Are you interested in menopause? Pregnancy? Effects of disturbed sleep? Are you a non-cycling person who is interested in continuous, non-invasive biomarkers? If you can make it to QS18 in Portland, please come to our session and bring your questions!

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Announcing Blood Testers: A Collaborative QS Project

At the 2017 Quantified Self Global Conference, we met to discuss a collaborative QS project that we’re calling, “Blood Testers.” Our immediate goal is to learn more about ourselves from high frequency self-testing of our blood lipids (i.e., cholesterol and triglycerides). Our long-term goal is to advance progress in self-directed research by better understanding what makes these types of projects succeed or fail.

In most Quantified Self projects, one person does almost all of the work, perhaps with a bit of advice from friends and online feedback. But what if you could work in a group of people with varied skills to explore questions you developed through conversation and collaboration? Everyone can pose questions and determine for themselves what data they want to collect, but can also benefit from others’ unique skills, compare results, and team up to tackle challenges like device validation and data analysis.  The idea isn’t to take control away from the individual, but to provide resources that connect the community through developing shared methods.

Research is typically conducted in university laboratories, and medical tests are usually performed in clinics. The human subject and the patient are largely isolated from the development of research and healthcare. The result is a divide: those meant to benefit from research largely do not participate in, or understand it. The experiences of the Quantified Self community, however, have convinced us that the ability to reason about a problem using evidence is not a narrowly professional skill. Many people can do it. We’re interested in testing our process of collaborative self-tracking and seeing if it can lead to new personal knowledge about our cardiovascular health. Designing a new way to share expertise, lighten individual burden, and increase project quality is a non-trivial problem that will continue to evolve and challenge us. We hope to make a contribution by offering a worked example of a kind of discovery that is informed by ‘expert’ individuals, highly participatory, and open access.

Our Plan

In fall 2017, a group of QSers from our breakout session in Amsterdam will receive a package in the mail containing an at-home lipid test kit. Expenses for the tests and setting up the project are being paid by our sponsor, Amgen. Through in-person meetings, webinars, and one-on-one online chats, participants will engage in three questions.

  • The first revolves around the nature of the project: What can we learn about ethical review, experimental design, execution, analysis and presentation by working in a group? 
  • The second question is scientific and one the group will answer together by conducting the same experiment: Given that lipids change over hours and days, but are normally measured but once per year, can we learn something new about our health by mapping these high-frequency changes? 
  • The third question will elucidate both process and personal lipid physiology: Each participant will design and execute a project of personal interest using insights gained during the first experiment. 

Both process and projects will be shared with the community over the next few months via posts here. We hope you’ll observe this process with us from start to finish (click the “bloodtesters” tag at the bottom of the article to see all related posts), and learn with us about the challenges and successes to be had in the process.

(Photo by Bob Troia)

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Results of The Buttermind Experiment

In August, at a Quantified Self meeting in San Jose, I told how butter apparently improved my brain function. When I started eating a half-stick of butter every day, I suddenly got faster at arithmetic. During the question period, Greg Biggers of proposed a study to see if what I’d found was true for other people.

Eri Gentry, also of, organized an experiment to measure the effect of butter and coconut oil on arithmetic speed. Forty-five people signed up. The experiment lasted three weeks (October 23-November 12). On each day of the experiment, the participants took an online arithmetic test that resembled mine.

Continue reading

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So, you think you can science? The search for the next CitSci study!

Fat-rich Thanksgiving preparations have got me thinking an awful lot about my first citizen science study, Butter Mind, in which participants ate half a stick of butter, the equivalent in coconut oil, or nothing, and then performed a simple math test.

Butter Mind ran from October 23rd to November 12th. Unfortunately, we were unable to determine in this three week period whether butter or coconut oil improved math performance – the “practice effect” was too large.  However, I did find that butter helped me wake up feeling more refreshed!  Now, I’m looking for something to try next… pork belly, perhaps?

For me, Butter Mind was worth it simply to interact with other fun, curious folks. A total of 42 participants and 2 study organizers signed up. We did math, ate butter together (so to speak), and chatted about topics such as Seth Robert’s Shangri-la Diet, food allergies, and what our favorite butter/coconut oil recipes were.  I feel there is a lot more room for people to benefit from sharing lifelogging details.

In that vein, I’ve created a forum on Genomera for ex-Butter Mind participants to share their thoughts and experience self-tracking.  [Genomera is still in beta; if you would like to access the forum, email] I will also be holding a tweet-up in the Bay Area (date tbd) to meet and chat with our local participants.

Now, for the big announcement! Genomera is holding a competition for “Next Citizen Science Study.” (Details after the jump.)  The lucky winner will have their study hosted on the Genomera platform and will receive a 23andMe Complete Edition ($499 value).*

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Polyphasic Sleep Experiment at Zeo

There’s a great new post over at the Zeo blog by an experienced polyphasic sleeper – instead of sleeping in one 8 hour chunk, he breaks it up into three segments throughout the day. In his post he shows how he used Zeo to help optimize sleep quality and create a polyphasic schedule that feels better for him than the more common monophasic sleep.

It’s also part of a larger Polyphasic Sleep Experiment involving 11 polyphasic sleepers – Zeo is asking them to document their journey of adapting to polyphasic sleep with writing, sleep data, and video footage. I believe it’s still open to anyone who wants to join, so if you’re interested in going polyphasic, ask Derek at Zeo for more details.
Sweet dreams! 

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Will Butter Make You Smarter? Introducing Butter Mind…and Coconut Mind

stick of butter.jpgUpdate: 10/19/10 – Study is now open to users at

Will eating one of these fats improve your math performance?  Based on Seth Roberts’ butter and math
study, recently presented at a Bay Area Quantified
Self Show & Tell
, during which Seth ate half a stick of butter each day and performed better in math, we expect the answer to be yes.

Seth was able to reduce his time by 30 milliseconds.  Will others who try a similar experiment experience the same change? 


In the Butter Mind study, to be run from October 23 – November 12, I will test the hypothesis that butter improves math performance. (note: there has been a slight shift in the dates.)

This study is meant to
mimic Seth Robert’s study, with the addition of a coconut oil group. 
Many thanks to Seth for his advice and help getting this started!

Why the addition coconut oil?  I have a pet theory that the cognitive enhancement Seth received may be from the high concentration of Medium Chain Triglycerides in butter, also present in coconut oil, which has been linked to positive effects on those with Alzheimer’s Syndrome.  Seth has not tried coconut oil, so cannot report on its effects on his math scores.

Obviously, no study is perfect – and this one is no exception!  It’s a test I was interested in trying myself after seeing Seth’s presentation — but I realized it would be far more fun and interesting to include others!  This will be fun for me, and I hope for you, too. At the very least, will get data from a group over a 21-day period, but we may even get a few curious surprises. 

I am currently looking for Butter Mind participants, who will perform a math test daily for 21 days and be in one of the following groups: butter eaters, coconut oil eaters, and controls, who will eat no additional fat but will perform the same math test as the fat-eaters.

To qualify for the study, you must be willing to eat 4TBS of butter or coconut oil (sticking to the same one) – or nothing extra – for 7 days and do a 32 problem simple math test for 21 days.  You must have access to the internet to submit your scores.

Study details:


-       Participants
will be randomly selected to be in the Butter, Coconut Oil, or Control group

-    Participants will be responsible for purchasing butter or coconut oil, if in either of those groups

-       The study
will take place for 21 days: from Oct 23 – Nov 12

-       The
study will be divided into 3 sets of 7 days

o   Part I. Oct 23 – 29: Perform simple
math quiz daily  + No additional

o   Part II. Oct 30 – Nov 5: “Fat.” Perform simple
math quiz daily  + Butter OR
Coconut Oil. For Controls, just the quiz.

o   Part III. Nov 6 – 12: Perform simple
math quiz daily  + No additional

-       Non-control participants
will ingest 4 Tablespoons of either
Butter or Coconut Oil during the “Fat” portion of the study

-       Participants
will be asked to share lifestyle information before the study and asked to join an online group to track their data.  Extra sharing (thoughts, epiphanies) is encouraged but optional.

Additional details:


-       Results
will statistically analyzed, hacked and visualized (and new studies brainstormed) during Science
Hack Day
, November 13-14, Institute
for the Future.  You can join for the Science Hack Day portion only by registering here.

-       New
results will be posted to the QS blog throughout the study

-    Interested participants will receive a form requesting data on lifestyle factors several days before the study begins.  I will update this post with a link to the form when it is ready.


For more information
or to join, send an email with “Butter Mind” in the subject line to:


cat eating butter.jpg

Eri Gentry:

Twitter: @erigentry

Eri is co-founder of BioCurious, Citizen Science guest author at the Make mag blog, and is happiest when she gets to be a guinea pig.  Eri hasn’t eaten butter in 8 years but will try it (or anything) for a better mind.

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Stop the Pain! Self-Tracking Migraines and a Live Research Study

A common question people ask me is, “Why do you track yourself?” The primary answer, for anyone living with chronic pain, is simple — to help reduce the pain. Migraine, for example, is a chronic condition where self-tracking can have a positive effect.

According to the National Headache Foundation, migraine affects 13% of the US population, with women 3 times more susceptible than men. A study of tracking migraine using an electronic diary showed that tracking helped sufferers accurately predict incidents of migraine. Headache diaries have also been shown to be comparable to clinical interviews for diagnosing migraine.
This greater self-knowledge that tracking brings is invaluable. Like predicting earthquakes and volcano eruptions, predicting a migraine can help a sufferer either take action to prevent it or prepare for the worst. In order to better understand how to predict and alleviate migraine pain, a live, crowdsourced research study on migraine is being conducted.

The call for participants is below, but first, the story of a self-tracking migraineur.

Mercedes’ Story

Mercedes (her online name) has had migraines for 30 years. That’s almost as long as I’ve been alive. She tracks her migraines in order to minimize how often they occur. Here is her story, in her own words:

This is what I track:

  • Amount of bedrest (since I do not sleep well, I find that bedrest is a better indicator)
  • Foods I eat
  • Stress levels
  • Caffeine
  • Heat
  • Computer work
  • Lunar calendar

What I have found is that incidents of migraines can be minimized if:

  • I get to bed between 9 and 10 p.m.
  • I restrict certain foods such as chocolate, sugar, red meats and salt
  • I meditate and exercise to avoid high stress levels.  By exercise I mean largely tai chi and dancing
  • Since most of my headaches begin early in the morning before I get up, drinking coffee and applying heat to my neck first thing in the morning is beneficial more often than not
  • I have started to track the lunar calendar and the length of time I spend on the computer and, while not conclusive yet, find that on occasion the full moon and/or too much time at the computer coincide with my headache

Essentially to manage my headache, I have to eat right, rest enough, cope with stress, drink caffeine and apply heat (the hot tub is great for this too). And maybe avoid too much time at the computer. But how to avoid the full moon?

But even with that, there are still unexplained times when I get headaches. I am also trying to gauge if the severity of the headaches can be identified in advance but so far I have come to no conclusions.

Mercedes’ story shows the dedication of chronic pain trackers and the complexity of the conditions they face. If enough people living with pain came together to track themselves and compare notes, we would be a lot closer to understanding these conditions.

And stopping the pain.*

Participants Needed for Online Migraine Research Study

CureTogether is conducting a study on Migraine. People who experience migraine are invited to self-report data on their symptoms, treatments, and triggers. The goal is to discover associations in this data to help characterize which migraine treatments work best for patients with different groups of symptoms.

Participation is entirely voluntary, anonymous, and completely confidential. It should take 15-20 minutes to complete. Statistics for the study are posted live, so you will be able to see aggregate results of other participants’ data after completing your entry.

To learn more or to participate in the study, please visit CureTogether or email Alexandra.

* If you don’t have migraines but know someone who does, be a friend and forward this post to them. Self-tracking can help!

Photo by Auntie P.

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