Research Topics

(will update soon…)

Neural Interfaces

We’re developing mammalian neural interfaces for Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI), neuroprosthetics and neuroscience. A seamless, high density, long term clinically-viable interface to the human brain is clearly one of the grand challenges of the 21st century. Half a century of scientific and engineering effort has yielded a vast body of neural interface knowledge and a closely related set of tools for stimulating and recording from neurons inside the mammalian brain for clinical applications. Currently, the majority of neural recording is done through the direct electrical measurement, via conducting electrodes, of potential changes near relevant neurons during depolarization events called action potentials. While the specific geometry, size, material and functionality varies across several prominent technologies, all of these interfaces share several characteristics: 1) a physical, electrical connection between the active area inside the brain and electronic circuits near the periphery 2) a practical upper bound on the number of recording sites  and 3) the development of a biological response near the electrode —including the accumulation of glia and the deposition of proteins— which degrades recording performance over time. To date, chronic neural implants have proved to be successful in the short range (weeks to months) and for a small number of channels. The ability to record from thousands of sites in a clinically relevant manner with significantly less tissue response would be a game changer.  This work grew out of a very fruitful collaboration with Jan Rabaey (EECS), Jose Carmena (EECS, Helen Wills Inst.) and Eddie Chang (UCSF) in the context of the Center for Neural Engineeing and Prostheses (CNEP). Our technology is now in use at a number of labs across the country.

Insect Interfaces

Our group is interested in pushing the boundaries of technological fusion between the synthetic and living organisms. In this context, we’ve demonstrated multi-modal free-flight control of living insects over several publications. This work’s impact extends beyond the demonstration of insects as controllable micro air vehicles, in the long term, to the creation of hybrid synthetic/organic machines which exploit the best of both worlds: the merging of man-made computation and communication with the advantages of organic multi-cellular systems. We have become increasingly interested in chronic fusion of high bandwidth synthetic interfaces to insect sensory organs and in extreme miniaturization (e.g. a musca domestica cyborg). Recently, several of us in the group have begun discussing the long-term ethical implications of these issues; we’ve tentatively started to collect that here but it is still in its infancy.  At its core, much of this work is an exploration of how the rapid pace of computation and communication miniaturization is swiftly blurring the line between the technological base that created us and the technological based we’ve created.

Interfaces to Multicellularity

In a nascent collaboration between Adam P. Arkin (BioE, LBNL), Murat Arcak (EECS) and Jonathan Bachrach (EECS), we are  pursuing a high-risk, high-payoff vision at the intersection of synthetic biology and abiotic/biotic interfaces. This nascent work is designed to tackle three significant technological hurdles: 1) the demonstration of useful synthetic, multi-cellular assemblies, 2) the production of a system which is capable of non-natural sensing and structural synthesis and 3) a testbed to develop predictive CAD tools that deal with biological complexity and multi-cellularity.  No such systems exist today.

more coming soon…

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