Why It’s so Hard to Develop the Right Material for Brain Implants

via The Verge

The brain is soft and squishy, like “a swollen network of gooey gel.” Electronics, on the other hand, tend to be rigid. So designing a brain implant can be tricky, like sticking a plastic fork into a bowl of Jell-O and hoping the fork doesn’t move too much.

The first sensor was implanted into the brain of a paralyzed patient in 1998. The past 20 years have seen growing interest in brain-machine interfaces, which are brain implants that can record information from our neurons and also stimulate the neurons. Millions of dollars have been spent on developing this technology, from government-funded projects to Elon Musk’s startup NeuraLink. The possibilities are intriguing: help those with motor disabilities, treat depression, or, if you’re Musk, merge AI and human brains to replace language as we know it.

The Verge spoke with Christopher Bettinger, a materials scientist and biomedical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, about the state of brain-machine implant research, obstacles that remain, and the new research material that could solve some of these design problems. (This research was recently published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.)

What are some of the main challenges when it comes to brain-computer interfaces?

There’s a fundamental asymmetry between the devices that drive our information economy and the tissues in the nervous system. Your cellphone and your computer, for example, use electrons and pass them back and forth as the fundamental unit of information. Neurons, though, use ions like sodium and potassium. This matters because, to make a simple analogy, that means you need to translate the language. It just slows everything down, and raises questions of: how do you accelerate that translation? How do you harmonize those different languages?

The other issue is mechanics. The brain is this swollen network of gooey gel. To date, most interfaces have been these silicon-based technologies, [so it’s] like sticking a plastic fork into a bowl of Jell-O. These might work for a few days or weeks or even months. But eventually, they start to fail. And there’s “micro-motion artifacts,” or the small movements of the probe in the brain that can damage the tissue, lead to inflammation, or exacerbate scarring. It’s all natural biological reactions, but over time it leads to worse signal quality, and, eventually, the implant fails.

Learn more!


Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in! adafruit.com/mastodon

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community! http://adafru.it/discord

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers – CircuitPython.org


Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at AdafruitDaily.com !



No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.