Designing an Exoskeleton

August 2, 2014

Hi guys! I know I’m super late with this assignment, but I’ve had school this week, so I have been super busy. I also don’t have a way to upload a picture, so I will do the best I can to describe this invention.

My invention would be something of an exoskeleton. It would be a separate, and much larger, body that would work through our own thoughts. It would expand upon the existing functions of our brain. It would operate via a series of sensors placed into the brain that would send the information by wireless transmission to the exoskeleton to allow for movement of arms, hands, legs, feet, torso, etc.
This would be a helpful device for people who are not capable of moving around by themselves; be it a stroke victim, war veteran, a person who was born paralyzed, etc. By using circuits in the brain to control a “new body” these individuals would regain a life that they thought they had lost, or would never have to begin with.
Before we could do this, however, there is much more we need to learn about the function and over all structure of the brain. There have been advances that allow for some movement of a robotically maneuvered limb, but what I am describing is a full body, or half body, system for the user to wear in order to gain mobility and function in that area or set of areas. The difference here is that the technology would have to be very advanced, and the sensors would have to be highly specialized in order to decipher the large amount of information that they would be processing. Is this supposed to be moving the right arm up, or the left leg out? These seem to be very simple questions, but in terms of the neural circuits, we would have to have a large amount of information about the function of specific brain regions. This is where an fMRI would put to use. By mapping these out these regions, and designing each individual person’s new exoskeleton, each piece of machinery would be specialized for that user.
If this device would be used to allow people to walk in it, the machine would have to be able to maintain balance and support the weight of the user. By seeing the difficulties engineers are having with a perfectly mobile robot, this part of the invention seems to be a part that could take a while to develop.
As there is already technology very similar to this, I’m not sure how much longer it will be before this is available. It may have already been invented, but it definitely isn’t available to be placed on the market. In my mind I picture this as a common piece of technology that is widely available to many people all over the world. The amount of patients, people, children, that could be helped by something like this is a lot higher than I would even like to think about. So, to answer the question, with the rate in which discoveries are being made in the realm, I would hope that at least in the next fifty or so years this invention will be marketable to the public.

Neuroscience and Law

August 2, 2014

Many neuroscience technologies have been used in the courtroom, chiefly among them EEG (Electroencephalography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). EEG measures brain waves from the skull. These waves can communicate information about when the brain is active. However, EEG does not convey information about where the brain is active. fMRI, conversely, can pinpoint the location of activity in the brain but is unable to give a comprehensive time assessment. When used in tandem, EEG and fMRI can locate the area of activity as well as provide a time table for the activity. This is when brain imaging is at its most accurate. Using brain imaging technology, many scientists and lawyers argue that one can definitively tell when a suspect is lying or telling the truth. Thus, these technologies are sought in court cases when trying to prove a suspect’s innocence, or his/her insanity (and thereby exculpating the suspect). Select neuroscientists believe that through fMRI and EEG, they can prove that a person is a psychopath and consequently should not be accountable to the law. Using fMRI and EEG seem like very exciting methods that could potentially leave us with a legal system that finds the right culprit 100% of the time. However, these methods are not foolproof and often are not admissible in court due to a jury that may be more than just impressionable. Impressively scientific images or scans could be prejudicial to the jury, and therefore bias their judgment. Further, fMRI and EEG are not 100% accurate in their findings. In a court case where the suspect is a possible psychopath, but committed murder more than a decade ago, it is difficult to use a contemporary brain scan as evidence in a trial – the brain may have become analogous to that of a psychopath, but may not have been originally, at the time of the murder. In these types of cases, using scientific technologies may be useful, but not necessarily admissible in court. Further, it can easily be rebutted by other neuroscientists who do not believe that fMRI and EEG accurately depict a brain of a criminal. One of the main arguments, similar to that in gun control, against the use of brain scans in court is that People kill People, brains do not. People should be held responsible for their actions and deeds, regardless of their mental condition. However, this is a very old-fashioned, non-scientific-esque view – mental conditions alter perception and behavior, otherwise we would not label them as mental conditions. Resultantly, those who have neurological disorders (are diagnosed psychopaths) should be held accountable for their actions, but certain exception (such as no death penalty) should apply. At the end of the day, neuroscience is imperfect, far from absolute and definitive findings hence should not be used in court. However, with the continuous and perpetual advent of new technologies and better questioning techniques, neuroscience may one day become infallible, or close to infallible. If (and hopefully when), this happens, we can use neuroscience in court to do justice.

What makes you intelligent?

August 2, 2014

 If I were able to design an incredibly sophisticated, state of the art piece of neurotechnology, I would create equipment with the ability to measure intelligence, and determine the neural basis for someone being classed as an intellect, or a “genius” . What makes one person more intelligent than the next? Can you enhance intelligence? Does intelligence deteriorate? These are all questions that I would love to answer using highly advanced technology to do so. The reason for being so attracted toward this area specifically, is the magnitude of questions to which have unknown answers, and the the multiple interpretations of the definition of intelligence.  The intelligence quotient (most commonly known as an IQ test), is one of today’s very few methods of measuring intelligence- obtaining an overall IQ score based on a test comprised of simple arithmetic, vocabulary, memory, mazes, general knowledge etc. While the scores obtained do act as an indication of the abilities of that individual, I feel the IQ test does not give us the whole picture, focusing on such a limited range of a human’s capability.

This piece of technology would act as a new imaging system of the brain, which is rich in detail. With the same principle as the modern day MRI scan in mind, this technology would be able to locate the “source” of intelligence. To do this, the individual would be required to complete a series of problems, perceived to be academically challenging (for example), while the technology would map the neural activity of the brain, the volume of different regions of the brain, as well as the overall size of the brain. In this way, we would be able to identify whether the number of connections made between neurons gives rise to intelligence, whether the volume of grey matter in the Cerebellum determines cognitive ability, or alternatively, whether the physical size of the brain plays a role! We want to identify the structural difference in someone who is deemed to be “clever”, from someone who is not. This piece of technology would have no direct impact on your cognitive ability, or in altering your nervous system to become “more intelligent”, it would simply act as a device that is able to recognise intelligence when it sees it!

To make this technology possible, I believe that a greater understanding of each part of the brain would have to be established: function, composition, as well as down to the type of neuron most prevalent in each region. While the function of this machinery is to ultimately provide a detailed image of the brain, it needs to be able to detect the very small  action potentials generated by neurons in the brain, and so in terms of sensitivity, technology does need to become more advanced (since I would want to avoid any invasive procedure). Although ambitious, I believe this technology would be building on the systems already in use today, and so I am hopeful that this device could successfully be used within the next 30 years.


Map of every neuron

August 1, 2014

The overriding “theme” of the advances in neurotechnology these days revolves around trying to see the brain in greater detail. People want to see the circuits in detail, down to the single neurons. People want to trace neurons and identify which neurons all around the brain that they connect with. However, this is a laborious process and the technology doesn’t exist yet to build a picture of the brain neuron by neuron. People are either able to map the neural circuits for incredibly small chunks of brain (a chunk of human brain the size of a grain of salt takes up 2 petabytes of data); to map the entire human brain, but not in very fine detail (like the Allen brain atlas); or to map the brains of other animals (such as mice). I am imagining a technology that will be able to map the entire human brain in fine detail. The technology will generate a 3-d simulation of the brain which can be viewed on a computer screen. You will be able to zoom in on a single particular neuron and the computer will show you where it connects. This will give information in greater detail than ever as to the function of very specific circuits of neurons. It will enable scientists to differentiate areas of the brain with much more precision. Moreover, this 3-d simulation won’t be generated using a recently deceased brain—it will be generated in real time. Thus, like an fMRI, you can watch as the brain responds to stimuli in real time. However, instead of watching general areas of the brain, you can watch individual neural circuits. Also, you can compare multiple brains at the same time. This will let you examine the difference between normal brains and brains with, for example, schizophrenia. Right now, we can’t tell a schizophrenic brain apart from a normal brain. But, if we could compare them in greater detail, we might be able to discover something. That’s just one example.

To make an image of all the individual neural circuits of the brain while it is alive, we need to have a new type of imaging system. We also need to improve our chemistry skills. Normally, you inject fluorescent material into a cell, watch as it travels the length of the axon, and use a microscope or some other imaging technique to generate the picture of the cell. I want to have the same thing, but using photons or some other particle that can pass through the skull. Perhaps you use different electrically charged particles for different neurons. You precisely beam the particle inside the head. It collides with the neuron. It releases a chemical into the cell body which diffuses throughout the cell. A machine mounted outside the head precisely detects the location of the radioactive signals of the chemical. It uses this location information to generate a picture of that neuron in the computer simulation. Thus, you scan a single neuron. The machine is able to do this incredibly fast, and it can also differentiate well between different neurons (based on which chemical was injected into which). It continuously scans the brain, updating its pictures of the neuron.

There would need to be a lot of technological advances to make a real-time neural circuit imaging system possible. For one, you need to have incredible data processing abilities. Images of neural circuits create a lot of data. However, considering how terabyte-containing USB drives are hitting the market, I think computers will learn to be a lot faster very soon. Another thing we don’t have is the imaging technology to detect minute electrical changes in great detail. Our machine needs to have ultrasensitive receptors that can measure potential changes down to the millivolt in order to tell which neuron is exactly where. This will probably take longer to develop and calibrate. Probably, it will be 100 years before people have the ability to do this.

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Voodoo Brain

August 1, 2014

The Voodoo Brain:


Imagine having a doctor watch how your brain works. Not from an MRI, or a brain imaging device. But real time, live feed back of how your brain and neurons are working in a real life setting. My new neuro- technology is a 3D printed brain that shows the synaptic connections being made in your brain. Nowadays, 3D printers can create something in wood, or plastic. But imagine a squishy brain that sat in a tub with wires connected to it. The wires are connected to a computer and show live images of the connections being made. Different colors on the custom made computer program show how strong or how quickly the connections are being made. The voodoo brain would be a new type of imaging system that measures the brain in real time. I believe that this invention will not be able to be used for at least 25 years. There are many different massive advancements that would have to be made before the Voodoo Brain could be put into works. How could this technology be useful? There are so many different functions this technology could serve. Because the program will show real time data, patients with diseases or mental health problems could perform cognitive tests that could reveal what the problem is, where the problem is, and if there is a problem at all. This technology could also be used to read minds! If enough connections are mapped to show when a certain pattern occurs, when a person is thinking a certain thing, we could read their mind. This could lead to a fool proof way to perform lie detector tests, or spy on enemies. This could also create an entirely new type of doctor. Doctors who read and analyze the voodoo brain would have to be trained extensively in how to read and document what they see. The computer program: Would probably look like any 3D computer image of the brain, except with live synaptic connections. The program would create graphs that recorded every connection made in certain regions of the brain, and how strong, or quickly the connection was made. The program could also record the inverse: which parts of the brain aren’t making connections. Whether it is during sleep, or exercise, or while taking a math test.


Diagram A: This shows where the 3D brain could be held, and the wires hooked up to it


Diagram B: This shows the computer program used to show different synaptic connections happening. The box in the top right corner shows where data and graphs can be shown. The box in the bottom right corner shows a specific data table that is highlighting a region of the brain

Don’t ask me why the picture is mirrored, I have no idea!


Neuro-technology Invention: Paralysis

August 1, 2014

photoFirst off, I apologize for my drawing… I will never be an artist!

  1. My invention is a machine that detects signals from the brain and transforms them into action potentials in the nerves that control muscle movements. It will be attached to neurons through an outside source, a large machine. The machine will eventually get smaller as technology advances in the future. This machine will be made specifically for paralysis patients. Because they are not able to make movements on their own in specific parts of their body, the machine will allow them to do so. It could not, however restore feeling in those areas. The process of allowing a person to move again without control of the central nervous system will use signals from the brain to tell the machine to tell the body to make movements. In order for a person to be able to do so, they must undergo much necessary training. They will learn how to control the machine and tell it to move their body parts.



  1. Theoretically, this machine will be in the form of a large electric computer attached to a rechargeable battery. This supplies the electricity required to generate action potentials in the nerves that control the muscles. It will be attached through wires and a system of electrodes in the brain, then through electrodes in the peripheral nervous system. These will receive signals from the brain, once the person goes through training to understand how to manipulate the machine with their brain. These signals will be processed in the computer, and electricity will be conducted to the wires that eventually reach out into the peripheral nervous system of the person. These will reach a system of microscopic wires that attach at different points in the muscles. The electricity will allow an action potential to be generated. One disadvantage to this system will be that there will still be limited mobility; not all muscles will be able to be reached, and the machine will control a general muscle area, not specific parts of it. The machine will be on wheels for mobility.


  1. In order to make this invention possible, there will need to be extreme advances in human electrode monitoring, and the machine’s electrical branches will need to be created in such a way so that needles are not protruding from everywhere in the person’s brain. With technology today, I believe this will be impossible in the next few years. However, in 100 years give or take, technology and knowledge of the brain will have advanced enough so that this may be possible. It will be difficult to make the entire process so that it is not too much of an obstacle in the rest of the person’s life. Scientists must first find way for electrodes to detect signals from all regions of the brain with such a miniscule instrument. Then those signals will travel to the machine that will process the information. The machine will need to tell the cells how to regulate the sodium and potassium levels in order to fire off an action potential. If more than one action potential needs to be fired off, the machine will tell the cells.


Catching Brain Tumors Early

August 1, 2014

An estimated 14,320 people are expected to die in 2014 from brain and other nervous system cancer. From 2004 to 2010, only 33.4% of people diagnosed with brain of other nervous system cancer survived five of more years after being diagnosed. From 2001 to 2010, death rates remained stable, indicating that there is still not a universal method of detecting brain tumors early on. 76% of diagnoses catch the brain or nervous system cancer when it is at the localized stage and only 36.6% of patients in the position live for 5 or more years after diagnosis.

Due to these statistics, I have decided to propose a solution to detect the growth of cancerous nerve cells in a simple and easy manner. To get there, the first step is to find what specific protein or hormone all cancerous nerve cells secrete or if  they release a higher or lower level of a certain protein/hormone that is secreted by all neurons. The apparatus I imagine is able to detect, identify, and measure the concentration of nearly every known protein/hormone in a given culture of cells. It has a bank of all this data imbedded into its system.

A biopsy would be done on a mammal, preferably a human or mouse, and their normally functioning neurons would be cultured outside of their body. The machine would then collect fluid from the extracellular matrix and run an analysis of all the proteins and hormones present and their concentrations. This process would be repeated at least thirty times in order to decrease the variance. This way, we can make a safer assumption about the whole population.

A biopsy of cancerous nerve cells would be done on a mammal preferably a human or a mouse, and their cancer cells would be cultured outside their body. Like with the normal cells, the machine would collect fluid from the extracellular matrix of the cancerous neurons and run an analysis of all the proteins and hormones present and the concentrations of each. This process would be repeated at least thirty times for the same reason mentioned before.

A comparative analysis would be done by scientists of the levels of all the proteins and hormones detected from the ECM of each type of culture (noncancerous vs. cancerous). Of the proteins and hormones present in both groups, if any particular ones are identified as being present with a concentration in the cancerous cell that is statistically different (t-test) from the concentration in the normal cells, this protein or hormone should be noted. If there is a protein or hormone that is consistently present in the ECM of the cancerous neurons that isn’t present in the ECM of normal neurons, this protein/hormone should be noted as well.

It would be decided by a group of scientists which protein(s) or hormone(s) is/are selected as a universal indicator(s) of the growth of cancerous cells in the nervous system, whether it be one that is in secreted in different levels by cancer cells or one that is secreted by cancer cells only.

Starting in early childhood, an individual will undergo a blood test and an MRI to record a baseline for the protein/hormone indicative of cancer of the nervous system. The blood will be tested for presence and concentration of the decided-upons protein(s) or hormone(s). For the rest of the individual’s life, their blood will be drawn and tested twice a year. If an abnormal level is detected, an MRI will be done to look for tumor growth. Hopefully, this would increase the percentage of patients with cancer of the nervous system that are diagnosed when the tumor is very small and easily extractable.

I anticipate this kind of technology to exist within the next fifteen years as more proteins and hormones are discovered.

Sources: copy

Checker Shadow Illusion

July 29, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 10.23.26 PM


In this optical illusion, we see what appears to be a checkerboard of two different shades of gray. We also perceive a shadow coming from the cylinder. In reality, the two different shades of gray, as seen in square A and square B, are in fact the same shade. This can be proven by printing out the illusion, cutting out the two shades, and putting them side-by-side. It will then be seen that they are in fact the same shade of gray.


According to Edward Adelson, who created this Checker Shadow Illusion, because there is a shadow created by the cylinder, the visual system has to determine where the shadows are and how to compensate for them. Local contrast is something that the visual system uses to determine what effect the shadow has on the image. “In this figure, the shadow looks like a shadow, both because it is fuzzy and because the shadow casting object is visible.” So really this is not a failure of the visual system to demonstrate, it is actually the success of the visual system doing what it was meant to do.


This optical illusion really shows how the visual system is really able to work out and process things in a very meaningful way. The visual system, in this case, was able to break down the information given from the illusion and put it back together in a way that the eye and brain would be able to perceive it.

The Checker Shadow Illusion

July 28, 2014

In the picture, there is one square marked A and one marked B. At first glance, your visual system will determine square B to be a lighter color than square A, when, in fact, they are the exact same color. How does your visual system get tricked into thinking this?

The first part of the trick has to do with the squares around square B. Even though it is in shadow, square B is still lighter than its four neighboring squares. Therefore, even though square B is dark, it is light when compared to its neighbors. Outside of the shadow, the dark squares are surrounded by lighter squares. This makes them look darker in comparison to the square in the shadow.

In general, shadows have soft edges while objects like the squares have sharp objects. In order to avoid being misled by shadows, the visual system does not pay attention to gradual changes light level. Because square B is surrounded by dark squares, the visual system determines that all of B’s edges should be sharp edges, thus coming to the conclusion that its edges should be seen as changes in color rather than a change in light or shadow.

This optical illusion tells us that the visual system does not succeed at being a physical light meter. It generalizes visual information, takes what it has, and allows us to see the world in a way that is not always correct.

As you can see in the picture below, the two squares are definitely the same color:

“Doing the Cajal” for a living

July 10, 2014

Greg-DunnThe first assignment of the class is a undoubtedly a challenge: selecting one individual neuron from a brain slice processed with Golgi stain and replicating the complex shape of neural cells by drawing it out. This is exactly what scientists such as Ramon y Cajal would do before cameras could be attached to microscopes .Considered by many as the father of neuroscience, Santiago Ramon y Cajal proposed the Neural Doctrine after spending many hours working on impressive replications of different neurons stained with Golgi.

R&C actually wanted to be an artist – however, his father wanted him to become a doctor (classic). With the medical background, R&C became chair of Normal and Pathological Histology at the university of Barcelona in 1887. He was truly a master of histology (processing of biological tissues): he perfected the Golgi stain to improve the quality of his work and, after many unbelievably precise drawings, propose the Neural Doctrine.

Greg Dunn went through a similar struggle a few years ago. He had always been into art, but got his PhD in neuroscience from Penn in 2011. Instead of working in a lab or industry, he decided to use his scientific knowledge to make amazing artistic renditions of the nervous system using a technique called microetching.

I’m posting a link to a video describing the process of microetching by Dunn. Trust me, watching this is most definitely worth 2 minutes of your life!