Tag Archives: DARPA

Brain-on-a-chip 2014 survey/overview

Michael Berger has written another of his Nanowerk Spotlight articles focussing on neuromorphic engineering and the concept of a brain-on-a-chip bringing it up-to-date April 2014 style.

It’s a topic he and I have been following (separately) for years. Berger’s April 4, 2014 Brain-on-a-chip Spotlight article provides a very welcome overview of the international neuromorphic engineering effort (Note: Links have been removed),

Constructing realistic simulations of the human brain is a key goal of the Human Brain Project, a massive European-led research project that commenced in 2013.

The Human Brain Project is a large-scale, scientific collaborative project, which aims to gather all existing knowledge about the human brain, build multi-scale models of the brain that integrate this knowledge and use these models to simulate the brain on supercomputers. The resulting “virtual brain” offers the prospect of a fundamentally new and improved understanding of the human brain, opening the way for better treatments for brain diseases and for novel, brain-like computing technologies.

Several years ago, another European project named FACETS (Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States) completed an exhaustive study of neurons to find out exactly how they work, how they connect to each other and how the network can ‘learn’ to do new things. One of the outcomes of the project was PyNN, a simulator-independent language for building neuronal network models.

Scientists have great expectations that nanotechnologies will bring them closer to the goal of creating computer systems that can simulate and emulate the brain’s abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition while rivaling its low power consumption and compact size – basically a brain-on-a-chip. Already, scientists are working hard on laying the foundations for what is called neuromorphic engineering – a new interdisciplinary discipline that includes nanotechnologies and whose goal is to design artificial neural systems with physical architectures similar to biological nervous systems.

Several research projects funded with millions of dollars are at work with the goal of developing brain-inspired computer architectures or virtual brains: DARPA’s SyNAPSE, the EU’s BrainScaleS (a successor to FACETS), or the Blue Brain project (one of the predecessors of the Human Brain Project) at Switzerland’s EPFL [École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne].

Berger goes on to describe the raison d’être for neuromorphic engineering (attempts to mimic biological brains),

Programmable machines are limited not only by their computational capacity, but also by an architecture requiring (human-derived) algorithms to both describe and process information from their environment. In contrast, biological neural systems (e.g., brains) autonomously process information in complex environments by automatically learning relevant and probabilistically stable features and associations. Since real world systems are always many body problems with infinite combinatorial complexity, neuromorphic electronic machines would be preferable in a host of applications – but useful and practical implementations do not yet exist.

Researchers are mostly interested in emulating neural plasticity (aka synaptic plasticity), from Berger’s April 4, 2014 article,

Independent from military-inspired research like DARPA’s, nanotechnology researchers in France have developed a hybrid nanoparticle-organic transistor that can mimic the main functionalities of a synapse. This organic transistor, based on pentacene and gold nanoparticles and termed NOMFET (Nanoparticle Organic Memory Field-Effect Transistor), has opened the way to new generations of neuro-inspired computers, capable of responding in a manner similar to the nervous system  (read more: “Scientists use nanotechnology to try building computers modeled after the brain”).

One of the key components of any neuromorphic effort, and its starting point, is the design of artificial synapses. Synapses dominate the architecture of the brain and are responsible for massive parallelism, structural plasticity, and robustness of the brain. They are also crucial to biological computations that underlie perception and learning. Therefore, a compact nanoelectronic device emulating the functions and plasticity of biological synapses will be the most important building block of brain-inspired computational systems.

In 2011, a team at Stanford University demonstrates a new single element nanoscale device, based on the successfully commercialized phase change material technology, emulating the functionality and the plasticity of biological synapses. In their work, the Stanford team demonstrated a single element electronic synapse with the capability of both the modulation of the time constant and the realization of the different synaptic plasticity forms while consuming picojoule level energy for its operation (read more: “Brain-inspired computing with nanoelectronic programmable synapses”).

Berger does mention memristors but not in any great detail in this article,

Researchers have also suggested that memristor devices are capable of emulating the biological synapses with properly designed CMOS neuron components. A memristor is a two-terminal electronic device whose conductance can be precisely modulated by charge or flux through it. It has the special property that its resistance can be programmed (resistor) and subsequently remains stored (memory).

One research project already demonstrated that a memristor can connect conventional circuits and support a process that is the basis for memory and learning in biological systems (read more: “Nanotechnology’s road to artificial brains”).

You can find a number of memristor articles here including these: Memristors have always been with us from June 14, 2013; How to use a memristor to create an artificial brain from Feb. 26, 2013; Electrochemistry of memristors in a critique of the 2008 discovery from Sept. 6, 2012; and many more (type ‘memristor’ into the blog search box and you should receive many postings or alternatively, you can try ‘artificial brains’ if you want everything I have on artificial brains).

Getting back to Berger’s April 4, 2014 article, he mentions one more approach and this one stands out,

A completely different – and revolutionary – human brain model has been designed by researchers in Japan who introduced the concept of a new class of computer which does not use any circuit or logic gate. This artificial brain-building project differs from all others in the world. It does not use logic-gate based computing within the framework of Turing. The decision-making protocol is not a logical reduction of decision rather projection of frequency fractal operations in a real space, it is an engineering perspective of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.

Berger wrote about this work in much more detail in a Feb. 10, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article titled: Brain jelly – design and construction of an organic, brain-like computer, (Note: Links have been removed),

In a previous Nanowerk Spotlight we reported on the concept of a full-fledged massively parallel organic computer at the nanoscale that uses extremely low power (“Will brain-like evolutionary circuit lead to intelligent computers?”). In this work, the researchers created a process of circuit evolution similar to the human brain in an organic molecular layer. This was the first time that such a brain-like ‘evolutionary’ circuit had been realized.

The research team, led by Dr. Anirban Bandyopadhyay, a senior researcher at the Advanced Nano Characterization Center at the National Institute of Materials Science (NIMS) in Tsukuba, Japan, has now finalized their human brain model and introduced the concept of a new class of computer which does not use any circuit or logic gate.

In a new open-access paper published online on January 27, 2014, in Information (“Design and Construction of a Brain-Like Computer: A New Class of Frequency-Fractal Computing Using Wireless Communication in a Supramolecular Organic, Inorganic System”), Bandyopadhyay and his team now describe the fundamental computing principle of a frequency fractal brain like computer.

“Our artificial brain-building project differs from all others in the world for several reasons,” Bandyopadhyay explains to Nanowerk. He lists the four major distinctions:
1) We do not use logic gate based computing within the framework of Turing, our decision-making protocol is not a logical reduction of decision rather projection of frequency fractal operations in a real space, it is an engineering perspective of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.
2) We do not need to write any software, the argument and basic phase transition for decision-making, ‘if-then’ arguments and the transformation of one set of arguments into another self-assemble and expand spontaneously, the system holds an astronomically large number of ‘if’ arguments and its associative ‘then’ situations.
3) We use ‘spontaneous reply back’, via wireless communication using a unique resonance band coupling mode, not conventional antenna-receiver model, since fractal based non-radiative power management is used, the power expense is negligible.
4) We have carried out our own single DNA, single protein molecule and single brain microtubule neurophysiological study to develop our own Human brain model.

I encourage people to read Berger’s articles on this topic as they provide excellent information and links to much more. Curiously (mind you, it is easy to miss something), he does not mention James Gimzewski’s work at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Working with colleagues from the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, Gimzewski published a paper about “two-, three-terminal WO3-x-based nanoionic devices capable of a broad range of neuromorphic and electrical functions”. You can find out more about the paper in my Dec. 24, 2012 posting titled: Synaptic electronics.

As for the ‘brain jelly’ paper, here’s a link to and a citation for it,

Design and Construction of a Brain-Like Computer: A New Class of Frequency-Fractal Computing Using Wireless Communication in a Supramolecular Organic, Inorganic System by Subrata Ghoshemail, Krishna Aswaniemail, Surabhi Singhemail, Satyajit Sahuemail, Daisuke Fujitaemail and Anirban Bandyopadhyay. Information 2014, 5(1), 28-100; doi:10.3390/info5010028

It’s an open access paper.

As for anyone who’s curious about why the US BRAIN initiative ((Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, also referred to as the Brain Activity Map Project) is not mentioned, I believe that’s because it’s focussed on biological brains exclusively at this point (you can check its Wikipedia entry to confirm).

Anirban Bandyopadhyay was last mentioned here in a January 16, 2014 posting titled: Controversial theory of consciousness confirmed (maybe) in  the context of a presentation in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

University of British Columbia (Canada) discovers the ‘organ-on-a-chip’ and plans to host a July 2014 workshop

My latest piece about an ‘organ-on-a-chip’ project was a July 26, 2012 posting titled Organ chips for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) featuring the Wyss Institute (which pops up again in the latest news I have from the University of British Columbia [UBC; located in Vancouver, Canada)]). First, here’s more about that 2012 announcement,,

The Wyss Institute will receive up to  $37M US for a project that integrates ten different organ-on-a-chip projects into one system. From the July 24, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

With this new DARPA funding, Institute researchers and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators seek to build 10 different human organs-on-chips, to link them together to more closely mimic whole body physiology, and to engineer an automated instrument that will control fluid flow and cell viability while permitting real-time analysis of complex biochemical functions. As an accurate alternative to traditional animal testing models that often fail to predict human responses, this instrumented “human-on-a-chip” will be used to rapidly assess responses to new drug candidates, providing critical information on their safety and efficacy.

This unique platform could help ensure that safe and effective therapeutics are identified sooner, and ineffective or toxic ones are rejected early in the development process. As a result, the quality and quantity of new drugs moving successfully through the pipeline and into the clinic may be increased, regulatory decision-making could be better informed, and patient outcomes could be improved.

Jesse Goodman, FDA Chief Scientist and Deputy Commissioner for Science and Public Health, commented that the automated human-on-chip instrument being developed “has the potential to be a better model for determining human adverse responses. FDA looks forward to working with the Wyss Institute in its development of this model that may ultimately be used in therapeutic development.”

It’s nice to see that there’s interest in this area of research at UBC. From the Dec. 30, 2013 UBC news release by Gian-Paolo Mendoza which describes James Feng’s (professor in biological and chemical engineering) interest in the future possibilities offered by ‘organ-on-a-chip’ research,

“The potential is tremendous,” says Feng. “The main impact of organs grown this way will be on the design of drugs; the understanding of the pathological processes.”

Dr. Feng’s group carries out research in three broad areas: mechanics of biological cells and tissues, interfacial fluid dynamics, and mechanics and rheology of complex fluids.

The group has an inter-disciplinary flavour–crosscutting applied mathematics, cell biology, soft-matter physics and chemical and biomedical engineering—that is well-suited for exploring this burgeoning technology.

Feng cites a Harvard study [Ed. Note: This is the work being done at the Wyss Institute] using a small silicon device that holds a thin layer of real cell membranes capable of producing motion similar to the heaving and breathing of a lung.

Organ models designed this way have the potential to be more accurate in drug and treatment trials, says Feng, as they can better mimic the functions of human organs, as opposed to animal models which are the current research standard.

“It’s more controlled and you can simplify the process much faster,” said Feng.

“Harvard researchers also injected drugs into their chip model to see how it changed its behaviour and to see the tissue’s reaction to mechanical or chemical disturbance,” he added.

“It’s very important for drug design and discovery and the pharmaceutical industry would be tremendously interested in that.”

In addition, organs on a chip present a less controversial option for organ model testing compared to stem cell research. According to Feng, this is because their ultimate goals are very different from each other.

“The research that tried to grow organs directly from stem cells is aiming for eventually implantable organs,” he said. “The idea of making the chip is to work toward replacing animal models, so as to be more accurate and realistic like human organs. While the ability to replicate a complex human organ function remains far off, the direction appeals to anyone who is hoping to reduce the use of animals in research.”

Here’s the ‘lung-on-a-chip’ video the Wyss Institute has produced,

By contrast with ‘organ-on-a-chip’, the ‘lab-on-a-chip’ does not simulate the action of organs responding to various experimental therapeutic measures but makes standard testing and diagnostic procedures, such as blood tests, much faster, cheaper, and, in some cases, much less invasive as per my February 15, 2011 posting  which included some information about a local (Vancouver, Canada) project, the PROOF.(Prevention of Organ Failure) Centre.

The ‘organ-on-a-chip’ will help make clinical trials easier and faster according to Feng (from the news release),

Feng says this kind of organ testing offers the possibility of greatly reducing cost and time required for clinical trials.

“By using computer simulations we can generate results and insights, and run virtual tests much more easily and quickly,” he says.

“We can test maybe hundreds or thousands of designs of organ chips to be able to tell you whether you should try those ten designs instead of the hundreds one by one.”

Feng, who has a background in aerospace engineering, says this new bio-technology has the potential to transform the development of artificial organs and drugs the way computer simulations have replaced the use of wind tunnels for designing aircrafts.

“That used to be the dominant mode of designing crafts,” he said, “but that’s being replaced by online computer simulations because we understand the principles of aerodynamics so well.”

There’s also recognition that UBC is a little late to the ‘party’,

While UBC’s efforts in the field are in the early stages, Feng is reaching out to researchers from other backgrounds. He will be inviting leading scientists to UBC in July 2014 for a workshop that will centre on the growth of artificial organs and computer simulations. He is also exploring ideas of his own.

“I have a collaboration with an engineering colleague on how to use the microfluidic chip, the technology used to emulate the lung in the Harvard study, as a way of measuring malaria-infected red cells,” he said, suggesting that this is just one of the countless ways this new technology could be used to fuel future innovation.

And since it’s Friday (Jan. 3, 2014), I thought it was time for a music video, and Pink’s ‘Let’s get the party started’ seems to fit the bill,,

Have a good first weekend of the year 2014!

Funding opportunities from the European Union’s Horizon 2010 programme and US DARPA’s Young Faculty Award program

A Dec. 12, 2013 news item on Nanowerk announces a call for proposals from the European Union’s (EU) massive science funding programme, Horizon 2020, which replaces the EU’s previous Framework Programme 7 initiative,

The European Commission presented for the first time today calls for Proposals under Horizon 2020, the European Union’s new 80 billion euro research and innovation program, which runs from 2014 to 2020. Worth more than 15 billion euros over the first two years, the funding is intended to help boost Europe’s knowledge-driven economy, and tackle issues that will make a difference in people’s lives. International cooperation is a priority in Horizon 2020 with the program open to participation of researchers from across the world, including the United States.

“It’s time to get down to business,” said European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn. “Horizon 2020 funding is vital for the future of research and innovation in Europe, and will contribute to growth, jobs and a better quality of life. We have designed Horizon 2020 to produce results, and we have slashed red tape to make it easier to participate. So I am calling on researchers, universities, businesses including SMEs, and others to sign up!”

A Dec. 11, 2013 EU press release provides more details about the call and about Horizon 2020,

For the first time, the Commission has indicated funding priorities over two years, providing researchers and businesses with more certainty than ever before on the direction of EU research policy. Most calls from the 2014 budget are already open for submissions as of today, with more to follow over the course of the year. Calls in the 2014 budget alone are worth around €7.8 billion, with funding focused on the three key pillars of Horizon 2020:

  • Excellent Science: Around €3 billion, including €1.7 billion for grants from the European Research Council for top scientists and €800 million for Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships for younger researchers (see MEMO/13/1123).
  • Industrial Leadership: €1.8 billion to support Europe’s industrial leadership in areas like ICT, nanotechnologies, advanced manufacturing, robotics, biotechnologies and space.
  • Societal challenges: €2.8 billion for innovative projects addressing Horizon 2020′s seven societal challenges, broadly: health; agriculture, maritime and bioeconomy; energy; transport; climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials; reflective societies; and security.

Background

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s biggest ever research and innovation framework programme with a seven year budget worth nearly €80 billion. Most EU research funding is allocated on the basis of competitive calls, but the budget for Horizon includes funding also for the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-house science service; the European Institute for Innovation and Technology and research carried out within the framework of the Euratom Treaty. Separate calls will also be published under specific Partnerships with industry and with Member States (see IP/13/668). In 2014 the total EU research budget, including these items and administrative expenditure, will be around €9.3 billion, rising to around €9.9 billion in 2015. Final 2015 amounts are subject to the decision on the 2015 annual budget.

The funding opportunities under Horizon 2020 are set out in work programmes published on the EU’s digital portal for research funding, which has been redesigned for quicker, paperless procedures. Participants will also find simpler programme architecture and funding, a single set of rules, and a reduced burden from financial controls and audits.

The 2014-15 calls include €500 million over two years dedicated to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through a brand new SME Instrument. Gender aspects are expected to be included in many of the projects, and there is funding to further stimulate debate on science’s role within society. There are also new rules to make ‘open access’ a requirement for Horizon 2020, so that publications of project results are freely accessible to all.

The EU’s Horizon 2010 programme has created a How to get funding? webpage, which should answer your questions and does provide links to applications and more.

Moving on: Jessica Leber writes about a US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) call for research proposals in her Dec. 11, 2013 article for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

The Pentagon’s advanced research arm is always dreaming up crazy, futuristic technologies that will shape the future of the military and society. DARPA was involved in early Internet development, and these days the agency works on everything from drone-slaying lasers to humanoid robots that could save your life.

Every year, DARPA gives out young faculty awards aimed at recruiting the “rising star” researchers in academia to devote their brains to the military’s technological needs. “The long-term goal of the program is to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers in the research community who will focus a significant portion of their future careers on DoD and National Security issues,” this year’s grant program announcement reads.

A Nov. 19, 2013 DARPA news release describes the Young Faculty Awards program, eligibility (you must be employed in a US institution of higher learning), and their areas of interest,

2014 YFA announcement increases the number of research topics from 13 to 18 and for the first time permits teaming with subcontractors

DARPA defines its research portfolio within a framework that puts the Agency’s enduring mission in the context of tomorrow’s environment for national security and technology. An integral part of this strategy includes establishing and sustaining a pipeline of talented scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who are motivated to pursue high risk, high payoff fundamental research in disciplines that are critical to maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.

DARPA’s Young Faculty Awards (YFA) program addresses this need by funding the work of promising researchers and pairing them with DARPA program managers.  This pairing provides YFA researchers with mentoring and networking opportunities as well as exposure to DoD technology needs and the overall research and development process. The 2014 YFA solicitation includes technical topic areas in the physical sciences, engineering, materials, mathematics, biology, computing, informatics and manufacturing disciplines that are relevant to the research interests of DARPA’s Defense Sciences and Microsystems Technology Offices.

“YFA offers promising junior faculty members and their peers at nonprofit research institutions the chance to do potentially revolutionary work much earlier in their careers than they otherwise could,” said William Casebeer, DARPA program manager for the 2014 class. “By expanding the list of research topics this year from 13 to 18—our largest portfolio since the program started in 2006—we hope to attract even more creative proposals that could lead to future breakthroughs on critical defense challenges. The growth reflects how successful past awardees have been in supporting DARPA’s mission.”

Eligible applicants must be employed in U.S. institutions of higher learning and within five years of appointment to a tenure-track position, or hold equivalent positions at non-profit research institutions.

Researchers selected for YFA grants receive up to $500,000 in funding over a 24-month period. As many as four of the most exceptional performers may be selected to receive up to another $500,000 over an additional year under a DARPA Director’s Fellowship.

DARPA is, for the first time, permitting proposers to form partnerships with subcontractors. The subcontractor relationship cannot exceed 30 percent of the total grant value. In addition to enhancing the competitiveness of proposed research plans, this change is designed to provide young investigators with the opportunity to manage a multidisciplinary team and gain a better understanding of the work performed by a DARPA program manager.

“The YFA program represents a strategic investment in fundamental research and professional development of the next generation of scientists and engineers focused on defense and national security issues,” said Mari Maeda, director of DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “It also benefits the young researchers and their institutions by engaging them in valuable, high-risk, high-impact research, providing a mentoring relationship with a DARPA program manager, expanding channels for future ideas to flow, and, now, exposing them to the rigors of managing a multidisciplinary team.”

The list of technical topic areas for 2014 includes:

  • Optimizing Supervision for Improved Autonomy
  • Neurobiological Mechanisms of Social Media Processing
  • Next-generation Neural Sensing for Brain-Machine Interfaces
  • Mathematical and Computational Methods to Identify and Characterize Logical and Causal Relations in Information
  • Time-Dependent Integrated Computational Materials Engineering
  • Long-range Detection of Special Nuclear Materials
  • Alternate Fusion Concepts
  • New Materials and Devices for Monitoring and Modulating Local Physiology
  • Methods and Theory for Fundamental Circuit-Level Understanding of the Human Brain
  • Hierarchically Complex Materials that Respond and Adapt
  • Disruptive Materials Processing
  • Disruptive Computing Architectures
  • Appliqué Antenna Elements for Platform Integration
  • Modeling Phonon Generation and Transport in the Near Junction Region of Wide-Bandgap Transistors
  • Advanced Automation and Microfluidic Technologies for Engineering Biology
  • Energy Recovery in Post-CMOS Technologies
  • Thin Film Transistors for High-performance RF and Power Electronics
  • Neural-inspired Computer Engineering

You can go here  http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=247637 for all the details about DAARPA’s YFA call for proposals,

As for deadlines, I had some difficulty finding one for the current 2020 Horizon call for proposals, as I gather there a number of calls being announced in the news item on Nanowerk,. You can find more information on the How to participate page but it is only one of several starting points for your journey through this remarkable and huge funding programme.

Meanwhile ,the current deadline for the DARPA YRA proposals is Jan. 7, 2014.

Good luck!

New book ‘Wonder of Nanotechnology’ explores optical and electronic systems

Nature is nano.

Nature starts with the atom, the building block of all matter, and works hand-in-hand with her partner the photon, the piece of light that communicates energy from one atom to another.When nature binds atoms together or creates physical structures in the micro- and nano-range, the combinations interact differently with light, providing nature with a rich palette of colors to decorate the world around us,while also giving rise to the functional complexity of nature.The wings of a butterfly, the feather of a peacock, the sheen of a pearl—all of these are examples of nature’s photonic crystals: nanostructured arrangements of atoms that capture and recast the colors of the rainbow with iridescent beauty. These diverse combinations of microstructures and atoms in molecules, crystals, proteins, and cells on the nanoscale eventually give rise to ourselves, sentient beings, who, in turn, strive to explain the natural world that we see around us.. (from the Preface for the Wonder of Nanotechnology)

The Nov. 21, 2013 SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics news release touting the book is a little more restrained than the dramatic ‘Nature is nano’,,

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA – Nanotechnology research has progressed into quantum-level systems where electrons, photonics, and even thermal properties can be engineered, enabling new structures and materials with which to create ever-shrinking, ever-faster electronics. The Wonder of Nanotechnology: Quantum Optoelectronic Devices and Applications, edited by Manijeh Razeghi and Nobel Laureates Leo Esaki and Klaus von Klitzing, focuses on the application of nanotechnology to modern semiconductor optoelectronic devices The book is published by SPIE, the international society of optics and photonics.

The volume is a compilation of research papers from the International Conference on Infrared Optoelectronics at Northwestern University’s Center for Quantum Devices in September 2012, developed into chapters representing state-of-the-art research in infrared materials and devices.

“Advances in material science at the nanometer scale are opening new doors in the area of optics and electronics. The ability to manipulate atoms and photons, and fabricate new material structures offers opportunities to realize new emitters, detectors, optics, ever-shrinking electronics, and integration of optics and electronics,” writes Nibir Dhar, program manager with Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), in an essay in the book. “Imaging technology has the opportunity to leverage these developments to produce new products for military, industrial, medical, security, and other consumer applications.”

The editors of Wonder of Nanotechnology are:

  • Manijeh Razeghi, director of the Center for Quantum Devices at Northwestern University and one of the leading scientists in the field of semiconductor science and technology. Razeghi pioneered nanometer-scale architectures in semiconductor technology, and her research in quantum materials has culminated in various technologies such as type-II strained-layer superlattice infrared detectors, lasers, and terahertz technology. Her current interest is in nanoscale optoelectronic quantum devices.
  • Leo Esaki, who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the phenomenon of electron tunneling while working at Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (now known as Sony). He is known for his invention of the Esaki diode, which exploited that phenomenon. He also pioneered the development of the semiconductor superlattice while at IBM, and is president of the Yokohama College of Pharmacy in Japan.
  • Klaus von Klitzing, director of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Germany. Von Klitzing was awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the integer quantum Hall effect. His current research focuses on the properties of low-dimensional electronic systems, typically in low temperatures and in high magnetic fields.

“The chapters in this book bear witness to how far we have come since the invention of manmade semiconductor superlattices in 1969,” Esaki writes in the book’s foreword. “I look back with wonder at all of the exciting developments of the last 44 years and can only imagine where the future will take this technology and what exciting discoveries await.”

The book’s editors also address the inspiration of nature in studying nanoscale structures, and how the human ability to control material composition on the nanometer scale is what allows us to achieve technological goals transcending the properties of naturally occurring materials.

“The wings of a butterfly, the feather of a peacock, the sheen of a pearl — all of these are examples of nature’s photonic crystals: nanostructured arrangements of atoms that capture and recast the colors of the rainbow with iridescent beauty,” von Klitzing writes in the book’s preface. “As our tools to manipulate matter reach ever smaller length scales, we, too, are able to join in the game of discovery in the nano-world — a game that nature has long since mastered.”

Notable chapters include:

  • “Advances in High-Power Quantum Cascade Lasers and Applications” by Arkadiy Lyakh, Richard Maulini, Alexei Tsekoun, and Boris Tadjikov (Pranalytica, Inc.), and CO2-laser inventor Kumar Patel (Pranalytica, Inc., and University of California Los Angeles)
  • “Type-II Superlattices: Status and Trends” by Elena Plis and Sanjay Krishna (Center for High-Technology Materials, University of New Mexico)
  • “Quantum Dots for Infrared Focal Plane Arrays Grown by MOCVD” by Manijeh Razeghi and Stanley Tsao (Center for Quantum Devices, Northwestern University)
  • “Quantum-Dot Biosensors using Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET)” by James Garland and Dinakar Ramadurai (Episensors, Inc., and Sivananthan Laboratories, Inc.) and Siva Sivananthan (Sivananthan Laboratories, Inc., and University of Illinois)
  • “Nanostructured Electrode Interfaces for Energy Applications” by Palash Gangopadhyay, Kaushik Balakrishnan, and Nasser Peyghambarian (College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona)

You can go here to purchase the book.

DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) wants to crowdsource cheap brain-computer interfaces

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants the DIY (or Maker community) to develop inexpensive brain-computer interfaces according to a Sept. 27, 2013 news item by John Hewitt on phys.org,

This past Saturday [Sept. 21, 2013], at the Maker Faire in New York, a new low-cost EEG recording front end was debuted at DARPA’s booth. Known as OpenBCI, the device can process eight channels of high quality EEG data, and interface it to popular platforms like Arduino. …

DARPA program manager William Casebeer said that his goal was to return next year to the Maker meeting with a device that costs under $30.

Adrianne Jeffries’ Sept. 22, 2013 article for The Verge provides more information (Note: Links have been removed),

A working prototype of a low-cost electroencephalography device funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) made its debut in New York this weekend [Sept. 21 - 22, 2013], the first step in the agency’s effort to jumpstart a do-it-yourself revolution in neuroscience.
There are some products like those in the Neurosky lineup, which range from $99 to $130. But most neural monitoring tools are relatively expensive and proprietary, the OpenBCI [OpenBCI, an open source device built to capture signals from eight electrodes at a time] team explained, which makes it tough for the casual scientist, hacker, or artist to play with EEG. If neural monitoring were cheap and open, we’d start to see more science experiments, art projects, mind-controlled video games, and even serious research using brainwaves. You could use an at-home EEG to create a brain-powered keyboard, for example, Dr. Allen [Lindsey Allen, engineer for Creare;  OpenBCI was built by Creare and biofeedback scientist Joel Murphy, and the prototype was finished only two weeks ago] said, and learn how to type with your mind.

I have written about various brain-computer interfaces previously, the most recent being a Dec. 5, 2012 posting about Muse, a $199 brainwave computer controller.

DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), nanoparticles, and your traumatized brain

According to the May 10, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has awarded $6 million to a team of researchers to develop nanotechnology therapies for the treatment of traumatic brain injury and associated infections.

Led by Professor Michael J. Sailor, Ph.D., from the University of California San Diego [UC San Diego], the award brings together a multi-disciplinary team of renowned experts in laboratory research, translational investigation and clinical medicine, including Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D. of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Sangeeta N. Bhatia, M.D., Ph.D. of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Clark C. Chen, M.D., Ph.D. of UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Ballistics injuries that penetrate the skull have amounted to 18 percent of battlefield wounds sustained by men and women who served in the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the most recent estimate from the Joint Theater Trauma Registry, a compilation of data collected during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“A major contributor to the mortality associated with a penetrating brain injury is the elevated risk of intracranial infection,” said Chen, a neurosurgeon with UC San Diego Health System, noting that projectiles drive contaminated foreign materials into neural tissue.

The May 9, 2013 UC San Diego news release by Susan Brown, which originated the news item, describes the reasons why DARPA wants to use nanoparticles in therapies for people suffering from traumatic brain injury,

Under normal conditions, the brain is protected from infection by a physiological system called the blood-brain barrier. “Unfortunately, those same natural defense mechanisms make it difficult to get antibiotics to the brain once an infection has taken hold,” said Chen, associate professor and vice-chair of research in the Division of Neurosurgery at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

DARPA hopes to meet these challenges with nanotechnology. The agency awarded this grant under its In Vivo Nanoplatforms for Therapeutics program to construct nanoparticles that can find and treat infections and other damage associated with traumatic brain injuries.

“Our approach is focused on porous nanoparticles that contain highly effective therapeutics on the inside and targeting molecules on the outside,” said Sailor, the UC San Diego materials chemist who leads the team. “When injected into the blood stream, we have found that these silicon-based particles can target certain tissues very effectively.”

Several types of nanoparticles have already been approved for clinical use in patients, but none for treatment of trauma or diseases in the brain. This is due in part to the inability of nanoparticle formulations to cross the blood-brain barrier and reach their intended targets.

“Poor penetration into tissues limits the application of nanoparticles to the treatment of many types of diseases,” said Ruoslahti, distinguished professor at Sanford-Burnham and partner in the research. “We are trying to overcome this limitation using targeting molecules that activate tissue-specific transport pathways to deliver nanoparticles.”

There is another major hurdle for treating brain injuries (from the news release),

Treating brain infections is becoming more difficult as drug-resistant strains of viruses and bacteria have emerged. Because drug-resistant strains mutate and evolve rapidly, researchers must constantly adjust their approach to treatment.

In an attempt to hit this moving target, the team is making their systems modular, so they can be reconfigured “on-the-fly” with the latest therapeutic advances.

Nanocomplexes that contain genetic material known as short interfering RNA, or siRNA, developed by Bhatia’s research group at MIT, will be key to this aspect of the team’s approach.

“The function of this type of RNA is that it specifically intereferes with processes in a diseased cell. The advantage of RNA therapies are that they can be quickly and easily modified when a new disease target emerges,” said Bhatia, a bioengineering professor at MIT and partner in the research.

But effective delivery of siRNA-based therapeutics in the body has proven to be a challenge because the negative charge and chemical structure of naked siRNA makes it very unstable in the body and it has difficulty crossing into diseased cells. To solve these problems, Bhatia has developed nanoparticles that form a protective coating around siRNA.

“The nanocomplexes we are developing shield the negative charge of RNA and protect it from nucleases that would normally destroy it. Adding Erkki’s tissue homing and cell-penetrating peptides allows the nanocomplex to transport deep into tissue and enter the diseased cells,” she said.

Bhatia has previously used the cell-penetrating nanocomplex to deliver siRNA to a tumor cell and shut down its protein production machinery. Although her group’s effort has focused on cancer, the team is now going after two other hard-to-treat cell types: drug-resistant bacteria and inflammatory cells in the brain.

“The work proposed by this multi-disciplinary team should provide new tools to mitigate the debilitating effects of penetrating brain injuries and offer our warfighters the best chance of meaningful recovery,” Chen said. [emphasis mine]

BTW, the term ‘warfighters’ is new to me; are we replacing the word ‘soldier’?

Returning to the matter at hand, I found DARPA’s In Vivo Nanoplatforms for Therapeutics program which is described this way on its home page,

Disease limits soldier readiness and creates healthcare costs and logistics burdens. Diagnosing and treating disease faster can help limit its impact. [emphasis mine] Current technologies and products for diagnosing disease are principally relegated to in vitro (in the lab) medical devices, which are often expensive, bulky and fragile.

DARPA’s In Vivo Nanoplatforms (IVN) program seeks to develop new classes of adaptable nanoparticles for persistent, distributed, unobtrusive physiologic and environmental sensing as well as the treatment of physiologic abnormalities, illness and infectious disease.

The IVN Diagnostics (IVN:Dx) program effort aims to develop a generalized in vivo platform that provides continuous physiological monitoring for the warfighter. [emphasis mine] Specifically, IVN:Dx will investigate technologies that may provide:

  • Implantable nanoplatforms using bio-compatible and nontoxic materials
  • In vivo sensing of small and large molecules of biological interest
  • Multiplexed detection of analytes at clinically relevant concentrations
  • External interrogation of the nanoplatform free from any implanted communications electronics
  • Complete system demonstration in a large animal

The IVN Therapeutics (IVN:Tx) program effort will seek unobtrusive nanoplatforms for rapidly treating disease in warfighters.

(I see DARPA is using both soldier and warfighter’.)

This team is not the only one wishing to deliver drug therapies in a targeted fashion to the brain. My Feb. 19, 2013 posting mentioned Chad Mirkin (Northwestern University) and his team’s efforts with spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), from the posting,

Potential applications include using SNAs to carry nucleic acid-based therapeutics to the brain for the treatment of glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer, as well as other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Mirkin is aggressively pursuing treatments for such diseases with Alexander H. Stegh, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. (originally excerpted from this the Feb. 15, 2013 news release on EurekAlert)

Coincidentally, Mirkin has just been named ‘Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year’ by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry, from the May 10, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Northwestern University scientist Chad A. Mirkin, a world-renowned leader in nanotechnology research and its application, has been named 2013 Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). The award recognizes an individual’s contribution to the commercialization of research.

The RSC is honoring Mirkin for his invention of spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), new globular forms of DNA and RNA. These structures form the basis for more than 300 products commercialized by licensees of the technology.

I’m never quite sure what to make of researchers who receive public funding then patent and license the results of that research.

Getting back to soldiers/warfighters, I’m glad to see this research being pursued. Years ago, a physician mentioned to me that soldiers in Iraq were surviving injuries that would have killed them in previous conflicts. The problem is that the same protective gear which insulates soldiers against many injuries makes them vulnerable to abusive head trauma (same principle as ‘shaken baby syndrome’). For example, imagine having a high velocity bullet hit your helmet. You’re protected from the bullet but the impact shakes your head so violently, your brain is injured.

NBD Nano startup company and the Namib desert beetle

In 2001, Andrew Parker and Chris Lawrence published an article in Nature magazine about work which has inspired a US startup company in 2012 to develop a water bottle that fills itself up with water by drawing moisture from the air. Parker’s and Lawrence’s article was titled Water capture by a desert beetle. Here’s the abstract (over 10 years later the article is still behind a paywall),

Some beetles in the Namib Desert collect drinking water from fog-laden wind on their backs1. We show here that these large droplets form by virtue of the insect’s bumpy surface, which consists of alternating hydrophobic, wax-coated and hydrophilic, non-waxy regions. The design of this fog-collecting structure can be reproduced cheaply on a commercial scale and may find application in water-trapping tent and building coverings, for example, or in water condensers and engines.

Some five years later, there was a June 15, 2006 news item on phys.org about the development of a new material based on the Namib desert beetle,

When that fog rolls in, the Namib Desert beetle is ready with a moisture-collection system exquisitely adapted to its desert habitat. Inspired by this dime-sized beetle, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] researchers have produced a new material that can capture and control tiny amounts of water.

The material combines a superhydrophobic (water-repelling) surface with superhydrophilic (water-attracting) bumps that trap water droplets and control water flow. The work was published in the online version of Nano Letters on Tuesday, May 2 [2006] {behind a paywall}.

Potential applications for the new material include harvesting water, making a lab on a chip (for diagnostics and DNA screening) and creating microfluidic devices and cooling devices, according to lead researchers Robert Cohen, the St. Laurent Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Michael Rubner, the TDK Professor of Polymer Materials Science and Engineering.

The MIT June 14, 2006 news release by Anne Trafton, which originated the news item about the new material, indicates there was some military interest,

The U.S. military has also expressed interest in using the material as a self-decontaminating surface that could channel and collect harmful substances.

The researchers got their inspiration after reading a 2001 article in Nature describing the Namib Desert beetle’s moisture-collection strategy. Scientists had already learned to copy the water-repellent lotus leaf, and the desert beetle shell seemed like another good candidate for “bio-mimicry.”

When fog blows horizontally across the surface of the beetle’s back, tiny water droplets, 15 to 20 microns, or millionths of a meter, in diameter, start to accumulate on top of bumps on its back.

The bumps, which attract water, are surrounded by waxy water-repelling channels. “That allows small amounts of moisture in the air to start to collect on the tops of the hydrophilic bumps, and it grows into bigger and bigger droplets,” Rubner said. “When it gets large, it overcomes the pinning force that holds it and rolls down into the beetle’s mouth for a fresh drink of water.”

To create a material with the same abilities, the researchers manipulated two characteristics — roughness and nanoporosity (spongelike capability on a nanometer, or billionths of a meter, scale).

By repeatedly dipping glass or plastic substrates into solutions of charged polymer chains dissolved in water, the researchers can control the surface texture of the material. Each time the substrate is dipped into solution, another layer of charged polymer coats the surface, adding texture and making the material more porous. Silica nanoparticles are then added to create an even rougher texture that helps trap water droplets.

The material is then coated with a Teflon-like substance, making it superhydrophobic. Once that water-repellent layer is laid down, layers of charged polymers and nanoparticles can be added in certain areas, using a properly formulated water/alcohol solvent mixture, thereby creating a superhydrophilic pattern. The researchers can manipulate the technique to create any kind of pattern they want.

The research is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

I’m not sure what happened with the military interest or the group working out of MIT in 2006 but on Nov. 23, 2012, BBC News online featured an article about a US startup company, NBD Nano, which aims to bring a self-filling water bottle based on Namib desert beetle to market,

NBD Nano, which consists of four recent university graduates and was formed in May, looked at the Namib Desert beetle that lives in a region that gets about half an inch of rainfall per year.

Using a similar approach, the firm wants to cover the surface of a bottle with hydrophilic (water-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repellent) materials.

The work is still in its early stages, but it is the latest example of researchers looking at nature to find inspiration for sustainable technology.

“It was important to apply [biomimicry] to our design and we have developed a proof of concept and [are] currently creating our first fully-functional prototype,” Miguel Galvez, a co-founder, told the BBC.

“We think our initial prototype will collect anywhere from half a litre of water to three litres per hour, depending on local environments.”

According to the Nov. 25, 2012 article by Nancy Owano for phys.org, the company is at the prototype stage now,

NBD Nano plans to enter the worldwide marketplace between 2014 and 2015.

You can find out more about NBD Nano here.

Organ chips for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)

The Wyss Institute will receive up to  $37M US for a project that integrates ten different organ-on-a-chip projects into one system. From the July 24, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

With this new DARPA funding, Institute researchers and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators seek to build 10 different human organs-on-chips, to link them together to more closely mimic whole body physiology, and to engineer an automated instrument that will control fluid flow and cell viability while permitting real-time analysis of complex biochemical functions. As an accurate alternative to traditional animal testing models that often fail to predict human responses, this instrumented “human-on-a-chip” will be used to rapidly assess responses to new drug candidates, providing critical information on their safety and efficacy.

This unique platform could help ensure that safe and effective therapeutics are identified sooner, and ineffective or toxic ones are rejected early in the development process. As a result, the quality and quantity of new drugs moving successfully through the pipeline and into the clinic may be increased, regulatory decision-making could be better informed, and patient outcomes could be improved.

Jesse Goodman, FDA Chief Scientist and Deputy Commissioner for Science and Public Health, commented that the automated human-on-chip instrument being developed “has the potential to be a better model for determining human adverse responses. FDA looks forward to working with the Wyss Institute in its development of this model that may ultimately be used in therapeutic development.”

Wyss Founding Director, Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., and Wyss Core Faculty member, Kevin Kit Parker, Ph.D., will co-lead this five-year project.

I note that Kevin Kit Parker was mentioned in an earlier posting today (July 26, 2012) titled, Medusa, jellyfish, and tissue engineering, and Donald Ingber in my Dec.1e, 2011 posting about Shrilk and insect skeletons.

As for the Wyss Institute, here’s a description from the news release,

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University (http://wyss.harvard.edu) uses Nature’s design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Working as an alliance among Harvard’s Schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Arts & Sciences, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, , Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Tufts University, and Boston University, the Institute crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers to engage in high-risk research that leads to transformative technological breakthroughs. By emulating Nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing. These technologies are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and new start-ups.

I hadn’t thought of an organ-on-a-chip as particularly bioinspired so I’ll have to think about that one for a while.

DARPA’s Living Foundries and advanced nanotechnology via synthetic biology

This is not a comfortable topic for a lot of people, but James Lewis in a May 26, 2012 posting on the Foresight Institute blog, comments on some developments in the DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projeect Agency) Living Foundries program (Note: I have removed a link),

Synthetic biology promises near-term breakthroughs in medicine, materials, and energy, and is also one promising development pathway leading to advanced nanotechnology and a general capability for programmable, atomically-precise manufacturing. Darpa (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has launched a new program [Living Foundries] that could greatly accelerate progress in synthetic biology by creating a library of standardized, modular biological units that could be used to build new devices and circuits.

If Darpa’s Living Foundries program achieves its ambitious goals, it should create a methodology, toolbox, and a large group of practitioners ready to pursue a synthetic biology pathway to building complex molecular machine systems, and eventually, atomically precise manufacturing systems.

DARPA opened solicitations for this program Sept. 2, 2011 and made a series of award notices starting May 17, 2012 stretching to May 31,2012. Here’s a description of the program from the DARPA Living Foundries project webpage,

The Living Foundries Program seeks to create the engineering framework for biology, speeding the biological design-build-test cycle and expanding the complexity of systems that can be engineered. The Program aims to develop new tools, technologies and methodologies to decouple biological design from fabrication, yield design rules and tools, and manage biological complexity through abstraction and standardization.  These foundational tools would enable the rapid development of previously unattainable technologies and products, leveraging biology to solve challenges associated with production of new materials, novel capabilities, fuel and medicines. For example, one motivating, widespread and currently intractable problem is that of corrosion/materials degradation. The DoD must operate in all environments, including some of the most corrosively aggressive on Earth, and do so with increasingly complex heterogeneous materials systems. This multifaceted and ubiquitous problem costs the DoD approximately $23 Billion per year. The ability to truly program and engineer biology, would enable the capability to design and engineer systems to rapidly and dynamically prevent, seek out, identify and repair corrosion/materials degradation.

Accomplishing this vision requires an approach that is more than multidisciplinary – it requires a new engineering discipline built upon the integration of new ideas, approaches and tools from fields spanning computer science and electrical engineering to chemistry and the biological sciences.  The best innovations will introduce new architectures and tools into an open technology platform to rapidly move new designs from conception to execution.

Performers must ensure and demonstrate throughout the program that all methods and demonstrations of capability comply with national guidance for manipulation of genes and organisms and follow all guidance for biological safety and Biosecurity.

Katie Drummond in her May 22, 2012 posting on the Wired website’s Danger Room blog makes note of the awarded contracts (Note: I have removed the links),

Now, Darpa’s handed out seven research awards worth $15.5 million to six different companies and institutions. Among them are several Darpa favorites, including the University of Texas at Austin and the California Institute of Technology. Two contracts were also issued to the J. Craig Venter Institute. Dr. Venter is something of a biology superstar: He was among the first scientists to sequence a human genome, and his institute was, in 2010, the first to create a cell with entirely synthetic genome.

In total, nine contracts were awarded as of May 31, 2012. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) was awarded two, while  Stanford University, Harvard University, and the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution were each awarded one.

The J. Craig Venter Institute received a total of almost $4M for two separate contracts ($964,572 and $3,007, 321). Interestingly, Venter has just been profiled in the New York Times magazine in a May 30, 2012 article by Wil S. Hylton with nary a mention of this new project (I realize the print version couldn’t be revised but surely they could have managed a note online).  The opening paragraphs sound like a description of the Living Foundries project for people who don’t specialize in reading government documents,

In the menagerie of Craig Venter’s imagination, tiny bugs will save the world. They will be custom bugs, designer bugs — bugs that only Venter can create. He will mix them up in his private laboratory from bits and pieces of DNA, and then he will release them into the air and the water, into smokestacks and oil spills, hospitals and factories and your house.

Each of the bugs will have a mission. Some will be designed to devour things, like pollution. Others will generate food and fuel. There will be bugs to fight global warming, bugs to clean up toxic waste, bugs to manufacture medicine and diagnose disease, and they will all be driven to complete these tasks by the very fibers of their synthetic DNA.

This is is not a critical or academic  analysis of Venter’s approach to biology, synthetic or otherwise, but it does offer an in-depth profile and, given Venter’s prominence in the field of synthetic biology, it’s a worthwhile read.

Brain-controlled robotic arm means drinking coffee by yourself for the first time in 15 years

The video shows a woman getting herself a cup of coffee for the first time in 15 years. She’s tetraplegic (aka quadraplegic) and is participating in a research project funded by DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for developing neuroprostheses.

Kudos to the researchers and to the woman for her courage and persistence. The May 17, 2012 news item on Nanowerk provides some background,

DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program in 2006 to advance the state of upper-limb prosthetic technology with the goals of improving quality of life for service-disabled veterans and ultimately giving them the option of returning to duty. [emphasis mine] Since then, Revolutionizing Prosthetics teams have developed two anthropomorphic advanced modular prototype prosthetic arm systems, including sockets, which offer increased range of motion, dexterity and control options. Through DARPA-funded work and partnerships with external researchers, the arm systems and supporting technology continue to advance.

The newest development on this project (Revolutionizing Prosthetics) comes from the BrainGate team (mentioned in my April 19, 2012 posting [scroll down about 1/5th of the way) many of whom are affiliated with Brown University.  Alison Abbott’s May 16, 2012 Nature article provides some insight into the latest research,

The study participants — known as Cathy and Bob — had had strokes that damaged their brain stems and left them with tetraplegia and unable to speak. Neurosurgeons implanted tiny recording devices containing almost 100 hair-thin electrodes in the motor cortex of their brains, to record the neuronal signals associated with intention to move.

The work is part of the BrainGate2 clinical trial, led by John Donoghue, director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science in Providence. His team has previously reported a trial in which two participants were able to move a cursor on a computer screen with their thoughts.

The neuroscientists are working closely with computer scientists and robotics experts. The BrainGate2 trial uses two types of robotic arm: the DEKA Arm System, which is being developed for prosthetic limbs in collaboration with US military, and a heavier robot arm being developed by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) as an external assistive device.

In the latest study, the two participants were given 30 seconds to reach and grasp foam balls. Using the DEKA arm, Bob — who had his stroke in 2006 and was given the neural implant five months before the study —- was able to grasp the targets 62% of the time. Cathy had a 46% success rate with the DEKA arm and a 21% success rate with the DLR arm. She successfully raised the bottled coffee to her lips in four out of six trials.

Nature has published the research paper (citation):

Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm

Authors: Leigh R. Hochberg, Daniel Bacher, Beata Jarosiewicz, Nicolas Y. Masse, John D. Simeral, Joern Vogel, Sami Haddadin, Jie Liu, Sydney S. Cash, Patrick van der Smagt and John P. Donoghue

Nature, 485, 372–375 (17 May 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11076

The paper is behind a paywall but if you have access, it’s here.

In the excess emotion after watching that video, I forgot for a moment that the ultimate is to repair soldiers and hopefully get them back into the field.