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Brainwave Patterns
A science fair project
Alair Newman

St. Ann’s School,
4th grade (4A)
February, 2000

Click here for pictures of me with my BrainMaster

Information about the topic:
EEG labs started as early as 1935, but there were no computers at that time. Today, brainwaves are being studied for diagnostics, control and biofeedback.

Brainwaves come from cells in about the top ¼” of the cerebral cortex. Brainwaves come from millions of cells working together. The brain has over 100 billion cells.  The EEG is like a symphony, which is a complex mixture of sounds changing in time and place. An EEG machine is just a computer with a couple of wires touching the head and a little amplifier.

EEG’s are read in frequency bands. The brainwaves from slowest to fastest are called: delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma. The brain signals are related to alertness, level of attention, and degree of mental effort. Drs. Gevens and Collura agree that it will probably never be possible to read the contents of someone’s mind with an EEG machine. But they both believe that EEG’s will be useful for people in the future.

Dr. Collura describes some of the current beliefs about the meanings of brain waves. Delta happens mostly during a deep sleep.  Lots of theta is imagination, and little theta is concentration. Alpha is relaxed but not sleepy. High beta is strong with mental activities like math and planning, but may also mean being anxious. Gamma is thinking hard about different things at the same time.

Brainwaves are affected by diseases of the brain, such as epilepsy, brain tumors, multiple personalities, attention deficit disorder, or Alzheimer’s.

Keirn and Aunon described another possible use for EEG’s.  An EEG might allow  severely handicapped people to communicate with their surroundings. For example, quadriplegics might be able to control a wheelchair or a computer using their mind.  In their experiments, these researchers used 6 electrodes on the head. They were at O1, O2, P3, P4, C3, and C4 (according to the Ten20 map for electrode placement).  Five people were tested 10 times on each of 5 tasks. The tasks were:

1) Relaxing: thinking of nothing
2) Mental multiplication: the people were asked to do difficult multiplication in their head.
3) Figure rotating: the people were asked to look at a figure then imagine it rotating in their head
4) Mental letter writing: the people were asked to imagine writing a letter to a friend in their head.
5) Visual counting: each person was asked to imagine numbers being written sequentially with the number before being erased before the next number.

They looked at right-brain vs. left-brain signals for four types of waves: delta, theta, alpha and beta.  They looked for the best matches for the tests. Afterwards, they able to recognize the tasks from brainwaves about 8 out of 10 times. If the recognition gets good enough, it might be possible to use brainwaves for communicating.

A third way to use EEG’s is in biofeedback.  Some people believe that learning to control brain waves can help you think better. Training brainwaves is done with “biofeedback.” Biofeedback is trying to train your body (or brain) using a computer and your own thoughts.  By trying different thoughts while watching the result, some people can learn to change their brainwaves.  You could use this to train yourself to relax or to concentrate or to be creative or to be better at solving math problems.

Dr. Gevens believes that in the future, maybe almost everyone will have a personal EEG machine. Besides entertainment, the following are some ways he said we might use an EEG machine in the future.

1) Mental checkups: An EEG could tell if you are falling asleep while you are driving. It can also tell if your mind is alert before doing something important, or check recovering from a head injury. You might also tell if you are getting senile.
2) Improving mental functions and learning: An EEG might be used for training exercises to improve attention, or a teaching program might tell if you are not paying attention. Or it could tell if you are using language in your left brain or pictures to understand something.
3) Enhancing performance: In sports, people talk about having their mind “centered” or “in a groove.” An EEG machine might help train you to be able to get hints from pros’ brain waves.

Dr. Collura said: “Reducing theta brain waves while simultaneously raising alpha waves enhances concentration resulting in:
1) reduction of errors;
2) greater attention to detail;
3) increased self control;
4) sustained attention to tasks;
5) ability to shut off environmental distractions.”

Lynn Goldhammer has used biofeedback and she believes it has helped her. I met her through the internet (through Dr. Collura), and she visited my house on 1/12/00. She said that she began biofeedback a couple of years ago because she had “attention deficit disorder”, which means she had trouble remembering and focusing. She said she went to a clinic called “EEG Spectrum” in California, and they did tests to see if biofeedback might help her.  She said that biofeedback training helped her improve her memory and her attention and helped her feel better about herself.

I will not try to prove that EEG training is helpful.  This would take a much longer time. Also, Dr. Collura told me that EEG training in children may be too difficult.  But I will try to see if I can recognize brainwave patterns from doing different things.  If successful, this might be helpful for control or biofeedback training.

Problem: Can I recognize brainwave patterns from different tasks?

Hypothesis: I think different tasks will have their own brainwave patterns and you can recognize them.

Experiment: Materials
 Computer, three electrodes, “BrainMaster” E.E.G. machine, Ten20 conductive paste, NuPrep gel, my head.

Experiment: Procedure

       1) putting on electrodes:

       First, clean bone behind ears (mastoids) and a spot on scalp about 3 inches above left ear (Ten20 location C3) with NuPrep. Wipe gel off with a tissue.  Second,
       put a scoop of Ten20 conductive paste on gold cups of electrodes.  Third, press the electrodes to the cleaned spots—yellow on left mastoid, black on right mastoid
       and blue on C3.

       2) starting the computer and BrainMaster:

       Turn on the computer.  Turn on the BrainMaster (so the red light is on). Double click the BrainMaster icon.  Under “setup”, choose “master/start”. Press “LRN” (learn), then press
       “GO”.  Relax and look at the signal on the screen. Make sure signal is “clean” (no “thick”, close-together waves).  Press “STOP”. Press “PLAY.”  Press “GO.” Be careful not to
       move too much. The EEG machine stops recording for a second if it picks up muscle signals.

       Repeat the experiments on different nights doing different things for about 30 minutes for each experiment. Different things tried were: sleeping, reading, doing homework, relaxing,
       playing cello, and watching TV.

       3) Saving data:

       The BrainMaster saves the data to disk for each experiment.  Average (mean) values for each wave (delta, theta, alpha, lo-beta, beta, hi-beta and gamma) are saved about every minute.  My father wrote a program to read the data files and make plots.

Table 1 below shows the different things I did while measuring brainwaves, and the dates and how long.

What I was doing


Length of Time

Playing Cello

2/3, 2/7, 2/9, 2/10, 2/11

30 minutes each

Doing Homework

2/6, 2/8, 2/10

30, 30 and 17 minutes


2/5 and 2/6

50 minutes and 30 minutes

Watching TV

2/9 and 2/11

30 minutes each


2/3 and 2/8

30 mins. and 10 mins.


2/2 and 2/4

60 mins. and 30 mins.






Table 1: Experiments

Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4 show examples of brainwaves recorded for playing cello, doing homework, watching TV and sleeping.  The “BrainMaster” recorded these brainwaves in each of 7 frequencies: delta, theta, alpha, lo-beta, beta, hi-beta and gamma. Two experiments (2/2 and 2/4) were done on the living room couch and data was recorded while I slept.  My father told me that the waves went crazy, going into “saturation”  (going over the top limit or under the bottom limit).

During the experiments playing cello, I had to be careful with the wires.  Muscle motions and wire motions could make noise on the recordings, which covers up the brainwaves. We tried taping the wires to my back. I could look at the computer to check if I was getting bad recordings.  The results looked fine and look similar for all the five cello experiments.

My father wrote a program to read the data from the BrainMaster files and plot the results.  The figures show how strong each frequency is, shown as different colors.  The brainwaves are shown vs time (in minutes).

(all charts show time on x-axis vs. wave frequencies on the y-axis)

Fig 1:   EEG Results while playing cello

Fig 2:   EEG Results while doing homework


Fig 3:   EEG Results while watching TV


Fig 4:   EEG Results during sleep


In all, there were 16 experiments. I want to see if I can recognize what I was doing from the different brainwave patterns.  To see all the experiments together, my father averaged each of the brainwave energies for each experiment.  The results are shown in Figure 5.  Figure 6 shows a bigger view of the higher frequencies.

Fig 5:   Summary of 16 experiments with 6 activities

                           wave:  delta, theta, alpha, lo-beta, beta, hi-beta, gamma

Fig 6:   Summary of 16 trials, zoom on high frequencies

                                       wave: lo-beta, beta, hi-beta, gamma

When sleeping, delta is very high while beta and gamma are low.  One of the resting experiments was a lot like sleeping, though the second resting case was not the same. In beta, hi-beta and gamma ranges, sleeping and resting are lowest while playing cello is highest and doing homework is second highest.  Reading (Harry Potter) was in the middle.

In the higher frequency range, watching TV, resting and reading Harry Potter almost looked the same.  The lower of the 2 TV-watching experiments was very close to sleeping.  But the other TV-watching experiment was much higher.  We looked at averages to see a pattern. For the high frequencies, the average of the reading was higher than the average of watching TV.  Both reading and TV were lower than cello and homework. Resting and sleeping were the lowest.

The TV and resting experiments were the most confusing.  They were not the same for different days.  This might be because maybe when I was resting, I was thinking about different things, and when I was watching TV, maybe one program made me think more.

The cello trials and the homework trials were always the most active in high beta and gamma ranges.

The strongest difference was for playing cello vs sleeping.  Sleeping had higher delta and theta, but lower beta and gamma.

It looks like homework is like playing cello, and watching TV is like sleeping.

Looking at Figure 5 and Figure 6, I noticed some differences.  These are listed in Table 2 by high-frequency energy and low-frequency energy.

What I was doing

Low frequency range

High frequency energy






Second highest



Third highest

Watching TV


Second lowest


Second Highest

Tied for second lowest







Table 2: brainwave pattern results

From this table, we can see that some activities are easy to tell apart. The easiest is playing cello vs. sleeping.  Cello had the highest high-frequency energy and sleeping had the lowest.  Also, it is easy to tell watching TV from sleeping by looking at the low frequency brainwaves.  Watching TV had the lowest delta and theta energy, and sleeping had the highest. Doing homework and watching TV were also easy to tell apart. Homework, like cello, had high-energy beta and gamma waves. Watching TV, like sleeping or resting, had low-energy beta and gamma waves.

I can conclude that my hypothesis is true. I can tell the brainwaves apart for different tasks. I also conclude that playing cello uses more of my brain than doing homework, and watching TV is like sleeping.


1 Goldhammer, Lynn, January 12, 2000, 8:00-9:30.

2 Keirn, Zachary A. and Aunen, Jorge I. (1990), A New Mode of Communication Between Man and His Surroundings, IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, vol.37,no.12, pp .1209-1214.

3 Gevens, Alan, (1997). What to Do With Your Own Personal Brain Scanner, In R.L. Solso (ed), Mind and Brain Sciences in the 21st Century, (pp. 111-125), Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

4 HTTP:// WWW. Brainm.Com  (Dr. Thomas Collura)

5 Restak, Richard, The Brain, Bantam Books, Toronto, 1984, pp332-342.

I want to thank Dr. Tom Collura for letting me use his BrainMaster EEG machine.  I also want to thank him for his helpful e-mails and video. I also want to thank Lynn Goldhammer for coming to my house and showing how she uses biofeedback. I also want to thank my Dad for helping me with the software and doing the experiments with me (and scraping the skin off my scalp!).

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