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Signal Processing and the Brain at Purdue University

Researchers at Purdue University have found a way to read your mind, and the results are promising for the field of neurology. They have created an electronic chip that is small enough to be implanted safely into the brain and can detect signals from nerve endings. By incorporating wireless smart phone charging technology, the chip can be powered via an on-chip antenna without needing a battery.

This low power consumption is achieved by way of Purdue’s ground-breaking circuit design, and the success of this device is contingent on the balance between low power consumption and high data collection rate. According to Saeed Mohammadi, a professor at Purdue who is an investigator in the research, the high data collection rate is crucial in order to interpret signals from multiple neurons, while the low power is necessary due to its size and safety constraints. Mohammadi states, “We can perhaps provide a technology that is more bio-compatible with brain tissues and can be implanted in the human brain or at nerve endings with much better success rate.”

Source: Purdue University

Headset vs. Internal Mic

A good way to visualize what researchers are doing with this is to think about how you might communicate with family members or friends using live video chat. You know that if you try to chat using the microphone built-in to your computer or mobile device, all the ambient noise in the general area will make it harder for the person on the other end to understand what you are saying. If you plug in a headset instead, the person on the other end can hear you clearly. Why? Because the microphone is a lot closer to your mouth. Additionally, the headset microphone has been designed as a mono-directional device specifically, so it does not pick up ambient noise.

The Purdue researchers’ sensors are based on a similar design. Attaching them directly to the surface of the brain greatly reduces uncertainty as well as ambient signals that create noise. Effective signal processing, such as what we develop at Rock West, can utilize a variety of mathematical algorithms and hardware filters to further identify and remove noise. The final result after applying modern signal processing techniques will provide data that can further neurology research in the years to come.

Making Sense of the Signals

Purdue’s chip is size of a small freckle, yet it can read thousands of signals, leading to further understanding into the human brain and its conditions. These signals can vary greatly, but one example is found in the peripheral nervous system, which serves as a link between the central nervous system and organs and limbs. Signals in the peripheral nervous system originate from senses such as taste and touch, or even from autonomic functions which regulate the heart or other organs. When these signals are confused, the result can be devasting to the human body.

Peripheral neuropathy affects approximately 20 million people in the United States and can result in confused communication between the brain other parts of the body [2]. There are over 100 types of neuropathy, with symptoms that include numbness, pricking sensations, muscle weakness, pain, paralysis, or even organ failure. As doctors and researchers begin to make sense of the signal’s obtained from Purdue’s device, it could help in the diagnosis of type and treatment of neurological disorders by providing more information into the way that neurons are firing.

When combined with signal processing, Purdue’s developments into “mind-reading” have potential to shape the future of neurology. This device paves the way for future brain implant applications, as well as introduces more data which can be applied toward neurology research.