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A Laser Pacemaker

Pulses of light may replace electrical stimulation in some medical devices and experiments

3 min read

18 August 2010—A living quail embryo's heart can be forced to beat to the pulse of a laser, new research shows. The optical-pacing technique may allow scientists to investigate the origins of genetic defects in the heart and may help create a new class of medical devices.

Biomedical engineers at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, and Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, used a laser beam with a 1.875-micrometer wavelength to force the quail embryo's heartbeat to speed up, changing the way that blood splashes against the walls of the heart. Having shown that they can control the pace of the organ with infrared light, the researchers now hope to test how different heart rates may trigger genetic defects that can later lead to heart failure.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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