Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor?

Great article where the authors take a microprocessor chip and subject it to the kinds of analyses that we do on brains, to see when they discover true things and when they ‘discover’ misleading results:

Neural Engineering System Design programme (DARPA funding award announced)


“The NESD program looks ahead to a future in which advanced neural devices offer improved fidelity, resolution, and precision sensory interface for therapeutic applications,” said Phillip Alvelda, the founding NESD Program Manager. “By increasing the capacity of advanced neural interfaces to engage more than one million neurons in parallel…”


  • A Brown University team led by Dr. Arto Nurmikko will seek to decode neural processing of speech, focusing on the tone and vocalization aspects of auditory perception. The team’s proposed interface would be composed of networks of up to 100,000 untethered, submillimeter-sized “neurograin” sensors implanted onto or into the cerebral cortex. A separate RF unit worn or implanted as a flexible electronic patch would passively power the neurograins and serve as the hub for relaying data to and from an external command center that transcodes and processes neural and digital signals.
  • A Columbia University team led by Dr. Ken Shepard will study vision and aims to develop a non-penetrating bioelectric interface to the visual cortex. The team envisions layering over the cortex a single, flexible complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit containing an integrated electrode array. A relay station transceiver worn on the head would wirelessly power and communicate with the implanted device.
  • A Fondation Voir et Entendre team led by Drs. Jose-Alain Sahel and Serge Picaud will study vision. The team aims to apply techniques from the field of optogenetics to enable communication between neurons in the visual cortex and a camera-based, high-definition artificial retina worn over the eyes, facilitated by a system of implanted electronics and micro-LED optical technology.
  • A John B. Pierce Laboratory team led by Dr. Vincent Pieribone will study vision. The team will pursue an interface system in which modified neurons capable of bioluminescence and responsive to optogenetic stimulation communicate with an all-optical prosthesis for the visual cortex.
  • A Paradromics, Inc., team led by Dr. Matthew Angle aims to create a high-data-rate cortical interface using large arrays of penetrating microwire electrodes for high-resolution recording and stimulation of neurons. As part of the NESD program, the team will seek to build an implantable device to support speech restoration. Paradromics’ microwire array technology exploits the reliability of traditional wire electrodes, but by bonding these wires to specialized CMOS electronics the team seeks to overcome the scalability and bandwidth limitations of previous approaches using wire electrodes.
  • A University of California, Berkeley, team led by Dr. Ehud Isacoff aims to develop a novel “light field” holographic microscope that can detect and modulate the activity of up to a million neurons in the cerebral cortex. The team will attempt to create quantitative encoding models to predict the responses of neurons to external visual and tactile stimuli, and then apply those predictions to structure photo-stimulation patterns that elicit sensory percepts in the visual or somatosensory cortices, where the device could replace lost vision or serve as a brain-machine interface for control of an artificial limb.

See for more details.

Technique named 'clarity' makes chunks of dead brain transparent, allowing fluorescent labeling

This technique takes a dead brain and permeates it with a transparent hydrogel matrix to keep proteins and nucleic acids in place. Then it removes the lipids. I guess the lipids are all that makes the brain opaque. At this point the brain is transparent but maintains its original structure so you can still label the proteins and nucleic acids.

Neuroscience as a new national priority

President Obama: “Now, it’s time to get to work.”

NYT article:

UCSB/KITP Emerging Techniques in Neuroscience videos

Friend of the blog Jacob Robinson (who himself is pioneering impressive new techniques with nanowires for neural recording) writes:

While we’re all distributing scientific resources, I thought I’d point out that the KITP has a wonderful program on Emerging Techniques in Neuroscience, currently underway at UCSB. They have a great lineup of speakers with some overlap with the Allen Institute program. Videos of the talks are being posted online here.

So many good videos from good neuroscientists (including Chuck Stevens, John Hopfield, Clay Reid, Jeff Magee, Guoqiang Bi, and many more)… it’s going to take me a while to get through these. Enjoy!

LabRigger: New blog for neuroscientist-engineers

Today one of our readers brought a new blog to my attention.

LabRigger is a how-to blog with a fresh look (kudos for the design and typography) that already has many interesting and relevant posts up for scientists who like to build. (You know who you are…) Furthermore, it seems especially geared toward neuroscientists and physiology folks. I’ve already added this one to my browser’s bookmarks.

Here are some of my favorites from quickly perusing the site: Printable bolt size charts, Tips on intrinsic optical imaging, Comparison of high NA, low mag objectives, and my favorite, Catalogs as textbooks. (I still remember a neuroscience faculty member here at MIT who told me that he brings science catalogs along on his vacations as “leisure reading” to stay up-to-date on new tools and to generate ideas for experiments.) In fact, I wanted to read just about every post on this blog and I think you will too! And if you’re the author of this blog, please introduce yourself in the comments, too.