Tune In to the New Podcast Series From the IEEE Brain Initiative

Experts talk about tiny microscopes and brain-machine interfaces

27 June 2018

A new podcast series from the IEEE Brain Initiative features interviews with leaders in brain research and neurotechnology working at top institutions and government agencies.

In each 15-minute episode, the researchers discuss their projects including addressing depression and other neurological disorders and improving prosthetics. The researchers also share their journey into the field of neuroscience.

The podcasts are free and can be downloaded from Apple iTunes or Google Play.

Here are highlights.


IEEE Member Jacob Robinson, co-chair of the IEEE Brain Initiative, is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering at Rice University, in Houston. His research lab is creating nanotechnology devices to better understand the workings of the brain.

“We are trying to envision ways to make technology for the brain smaller, faster, and more integrated,” Robinson says. “Experiments could be 1,000, 10,000, and maybe even 100,000 times faster.”

He foresees using nanofabrication to make thousands of small brain-machine interfaces—similar to how chipmakers manufacture ICs—for about the same price as one large microscope. The BMIs would be integrated onto a single-cell silicon chip.

“Once we can do that, we can make thousands of these microscopes and ‘form factor’ them so they fit on the tip of a finger,” he says. “These very large arrays will allow us to make, measure, record, or manipulate many cells simultaneously inside of the brain or inside of small cells.”


Member Maryam Shanechi, assistant professor in electrical engineering at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, talks about how she’s using control theory to build BMIs to treat neurological disorders such as depression. Control theory is fundamental in understanding how the brain works.

“Our brain is a controller,” Shanechi says. “We want to modulate the brain states of patients with depression to take them to a healthier state of mind.”

One way is with electrical stimulation. The input is electrical stimulation, Shanechi says, and the output is the brain’s neural activity.

“That is a control problem,” she says. “I’m controlling how I’m stimulating the brain based on feedback of neural activity. I can decode that by just observing brain signals. By observing the neural activity, doctors can see how much to stimulate the brain to lessen the symptoms.”


Member Heather Benz is working with VR devices and motion-capture technology to help improve the design of advanced prosthetics.

Benz is the medical device staff fellow at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in Silver Spring, Md. The center tests medical devices and radiation-emitting products marketed in the United States to ensure their quality and safety.

Patients wear 3D VR goggles while performing day-to-day activities, like writing with a pen and pouring a beverage into a cup. Sensors are applied on the body near where a limb is missing. Together, the technologies are used to understand how the brain learns to control dexterous, coordinated movements.

The IEEE Brain Initiative’s mission is to advance worldwide efforts in research and technology through workshops, standards, and collaboration with industry, governments, and academia.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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